Measure of your progress

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Roger Frost takes his pick of the the new batch of data-logging products and discovers there's something to suit most budgets and applications

Small or fast, innovative or functional, a new batch of data-loggers and sensors for the science class has arrived. And with these products (all on show at BETT 2003), you can build on what you have, start from scratch or extend what you do.

If you want something small, the EasySense FlashLogger (pound;125, Data Harvest) is one of the most compact loggers you can find. It slots into a socket found on many pocket PC devices and connects to Data Harvest's SmartQ sensors to perform any experiment you care to try. Its software, Sensing Science, is creditable and contains good features for such a tiny computer.

Helpful on-screen worksheets set up the system for you and the intelligent SmartQ sensors - there's now a new colorimeter and force sensor - are able to tell the computer what they can do. In the past, you'd have suffered a problematic upgrade.

What needs to be tested is how well dinky-sized data-logging can work, since pocket PCs like these are not the most robust, functional or inexpensive computers. However, many users will find a way over the hurdles - printing graphs, recharging batteries and installing software - to end up with a platform as versatile as any other.

A new logger called Flowlog (from pound;99, Matrix Multimedia) distinguishes itself by its ability to work with low-cost handhelds as well as PCs. Its use of infra-red to link with a Palm is novel, but the big appeal is that these pocket organisers start at pound;70 so reduce the overall cost.

As well as data-logging, Flowlog has Damp;T uses as a storage oscilloscope, circuit board tester and control technology interface. Two models are on the market - one boxed to use plugs and one "bare board" version using screw terminals - and since it has been launched with a huge range of sensors from US supplier Vernier, it begs a trial.

But for sheer ease of use, very little comes close to PASCO's USB range and new this year is the highly innovative Visual Accelerometer (approx pound;145). This sensor has a line of 10 LEDs, which light up in turn to allow acceleration to be measured and visualised.

Push the accelerometer in one direction and one or more red LEDs light. Push it in the other and the green LEDs light up. Place it on a "cart" and wheel it down a track or bounce it from a spring and you have one of the most effective new teaching tools in years. The sensor works well without a computer but connect it with a USB link and run Data Studio software (for PC and Apple) and you have a handy accelerometer. This means that not only you can graph acceleration live, but if also you use a Force sensor, you can plot one against the other for F=MA work.

New PASCO sensors in this fantastically simple plug-and-play range include a turbidity sensor (pound;145) and a carbon dioxide sensor (pound;110). Then there is a smart colorimeter (pound;145) which records absorbance over four wavelengths simultaneously. And if that's not something you're used to doing, try it as you study reaction order. You'll see four graphs, choose the best and soon realise colorimetry is useful and better using technology.

Sciencescope is launching two data-loggers at BETT, both of which can use Philip Harris sensors. The Logbook SM (pound;275) has a 16-character display, three built-in sensors and room for two others; the Logbook XD (pound;250) offers more sophisticated recording options, including very fast recording for physics. Other new sensors include those for pulse, force, voltage, current, oxygen, humidity plus a colorimeter and barometer, not to mention a new (USB) camera that can film experiments as you log data.

After it won a BETT award last year, the primary school data-logger unit LogIT Explorer (from Griffin amp; George) gains an inexpensive accessory to build a feedback system. The Explorer Controller (pound;50) allows you to power a buzzer, a fan or lamp in response to changes in temperature. Also from LogIT comes a Datameter USB Starter Pack (pound;310) to make data-logging work out of the box on computers without a serial port.

Economatics' Human Physiology pack (pound;869) looks like just the thing biology and PE teachers have been asking for. For a start, there's a heart sensor to show pulse and ECG, even during exercise. There's also a ventilation sensor to measure air flow and a respiration box to measure oxygen levels. Completing the package is the portable VTT Console (pound;399), which has a tiny screen and many computer-style features. Collected data can also be uploaded to a computer.

The best news for the VTT Console as well as devices from Deltronics, LogIT, Data Harvest and others, is that each works with the latest version of Data Logging Insight (pound;85, Griffin amp; George), the fourth version of this legendary data-logging software. New features like automatic scaling of graphs remove the need to set the recording time, while the screen layout now puts a graph, digits, bars and results table all on screen at once. Many will want to see how Instinct's data-logging program, physics timing program and teach yourself module have now been melded into one. An upgrade from those with version two looks tempting enough.

Roger Frost


Data Harvest. BETT stand: L40. Tel: 01525 373666.

Economatics. Stand: G42. Tel: 0114 281 3204.

Griffin amp; George. Stand: Y95. Tel: 01509 233344.

Matrix Multimedia. Stand: SW21. Tel: 0870 700 1831.

Philip Harris Education. Stand: G52. Tel: 01530 418000.

ScienceScope. Stand: M15. Tel: 01225 852800.

Visual PASCO Scientific

Stand: F70. Tel: 020 8560 5678.

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