It’s still a few days away, but the 6th National Robotics Week is almost here. Sponsored by iRobot, it is a cybernetic celebration with a full schedule of activities in every state, including everything from how-to classes to robot contests. You can participate, even if you can’t get to one of the many events with online events and lots of in-class activities, like workbooks, apps and lesson plans.
You can now use any Chromebook to log, graph and analyze data from many Vernier’s digital sensors. The Graphical Analysis app collects the data and performs linear regression analysis and graphs the data points. An update this spring will add compatibility for the company’s Go series of wireless probes.
iRobot is justifiable known for its autonomous vacuum cleaners, but iRobot Create 2 takes it into the realm of the classroom to teach programming. Based on the company’s Roomba hardware, the $200 Create 2 looks like the flat disc that scurries around on the floor sucking up dust bunnies, comes already assembled and is ready for teaching. Using the Create Open Interface, kids can program it to make basic moves. In addition to instructions and lessons to make two projects, iRobot supplies 3-D files for those schools with a 3-D printer to make extra parts and options for the robot.
Why take your chances by mixing and matching STEM equipment from different vendors when you can get it all with Fourier’s einstein Tablet+. Rather than just another Android slate, the Tablet+ stands out because it is stuffed full of sensors and includes powerful data acquisition and analysis software.
At 0.7- by 7.8- by 5.5-inches, the blue and black Tablet+ weighs in at just over a pound, making it one of the thickest and heaviest Android slate with a 7-inch screen. In fact, it is nearly twice as thick and 5-ounces heavier than Acer’s Iconia One 7.
Comparisons of size and weight miss the point of the Tablet+ because it is like no other slate on the market. It’s as if it were designed by science and math teachers to take advantage of the latest in STEM technology. The tablet has 8 built-in digital sensors that range from GPS, microphone, a three-axis accelerometer, ultraviolet and visible light to temperature and humidity and – with the included finger cuff – heart rate. Some of the actual sensors – like those for visible and UV light – are arranged along the top edge of the slate and visible through a window, which can be a great teaching aid in and of itself.
There’re also four ports that work with a wide variety of Fourier add-on sensors. The Tablet+ can accommodate any of 65 different devices, including a colorimeter, magnetic field sensor, rain gauge and a variety of voltage sensors. They self-identify and take just a second or two to be ready, but fall short of the more than 80 sensors that work with the LabQuest 2.
The tablet doesn’t have the latest Android 5.0 software but does quite well with the 4.1.1 version. It all comes together with Fourier’s MiLab app, which can take in the sensor readings, display them live and help analyze them. It can take in up to 100,000 samples per second, matching the data collection abilities of Vernier’s LabQuest 2. MiLab displays the data as a spreadsheet, graph or dial gauge, or all three at once, although it can get quite crowded on the screen.
Once the data is in place you can look for trends with its data analysis software that can map the numbers to a linear, exponential or polynomial function as well as calculate its derivative. When you’re ready you can export the data and take a screen shot that can be dropped into a lab report.
In addition to the expected Android apps, the tablet also includes a trial version of Radix’s Smart Class Student and Teacher apps. This nifty minimalist classroom management system lets the teacher take control of the class’s slates, chat and send a file to students. At any time, the teacher can set up a plain blank screen to work on.
A big step forward for Fourier is its einsteinWorld, an online store for getting STEM content. There’re lots of in-class activities and the Activity Store has a bunch of free apps that teachers have put together. The pickings are slim at the moment, but this could develop into a valuable source for teachers.
Inside the tablet is a dual-core Rocket processor that runs at 1.2GHz, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of solid state storage; at any time you can add a micro-SD car that holds up to 32GB. Its 7-inch screen can show 976 by 600 resolution, which pales in comparison to the One 7’s 1,280 by 800 or the Nexus 7’s 1,920 by 1,200. Plus it can work with up to five independent touches, rather than the expected ten.
It’s got all the creature comforts of modern computing, from Bluetooth and WiFi to a headphone jack and an HDMI port for driving a projector or large monitor. There’re cameras front (640 by 480 resolution) and back (1,920 by 1,080 resolution) for documenting lab work with stills or a video. Unfortunately, the system is charged with a proprietary AC adapter and plug, rather than a conventional USB one.
The einstein Tablet+ is a reasonable performer that won’t let you down. It scored an 18,967 on the Antutu Performance 5 benchmark, putting it just ahead of the One 7 and well behind the Google Nexus 7’s class-leading 26,069. In other words, it won’t lag when you’re capturing 1,000 temperature readings a second and it is an excellent general purpose tablet for kids to do Web research and write up labs on. Its 5,000 milli-amp hour battery was able to run for 4 hours and 8 minutes on a charge, just enough for a school day of on and off use.
If your school isn’t into Androids, Fourier also has the LabMate+, a self-standing plug-in device for PCs, Macs, iPads and even Linux-based computers. It has six sensors built-in (heart rate, temperature, humidity, pressure, UV and visible light) as well as four ports for other Fourier sensors. The best part is that it can connect via a USB cable or Bluetooth. It costs $199.
Either way, Fourier Education has your class covered with integrated sensors for science and science classes. While its $299 price tag puts it above its Android peers, none of them have built-in sensors for creating a chemistry or physics lab. Plus, it’s on a par with the $329 Vernier LabQuest 2 interface which has fewer built-in sensors and isn’t a general-purpose computer for all sorts of other schoolwork.
All this makes getting einsetin Tablet+ slates just about as smart as its namesake scientist.
+ Built-in STEM sensors
+ Full Android 4.1.1 tablet
+ Data acquisition and analysis software
+ Four ports for external sensors that work with 65 external sensors
+ Online services
- Big and heavy
- Non-USB charging
- Low-resolution display
Vernier’s Go Wireless sensor system has a new module for pH levels that like the temperature sensor doesn't require a cable. It can not only sense acidity and connect to an iPad via a Bluetooth link, but its output can be graphed with the free iPad app. The software graphs pH level from acid to base, making it perfect for a biology or chemistry lab. It costs $99.
When Birdbrain’s Duo kit comes out later this year it will have been worth the wait. The system is being funded by a KickStarter campaign that has exceeded its goal and should be available in November. Like other Birdbrain kits, Duo combines the ability to program a sophisticated processor with input sensors and output actuators with arts and crafts. In other wrods, everyone’s bot is different. The robot is tethered to the controlling computer and can be programmed in Scratch, Snap or Create Lab Visual Programmer.
Every school serious about science should have a weather lab, but if yours can’t afford one, Vaavud’s Wind Meter for Smartphones is a good start. At $50, it is a fraction of the cost of a full weather center, but is accurate to within 4 percent and was developed using the wind tunnel at the Technical University of Denmark. The two-cup anemometer snaps into an iPhone or Android’s earphone jack and communicates with the phone via a Bluetooth link; it works with all recent iPhones and some Android phones. The app not only shows current speed, but averages and a histogram of recent wind movement; it works with metric and English units.