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Time to switch on to sensors

LIVE, Sensor kit. Basic pack for PC or Archimedes (includes temperature, light and sound sensors) Pounds 99. Accessory pack (temperature and light switch sensors) Pounds 50. Essential software: Junior Insight Pounds 44, Insight Pounds 79 or RMInvestigate Pounds 79. Available from Commotion, Griffin George, Longman Logotron or Research Machines. Addresses below.

Sensor kits that allow you to measure temperature as well as light and sound levels have been around for ages. They not only connect to the computer and help you to explore science, they also allow you hit that mysterious "monitor external events" clause in the IT curriculum.

The equipment manufacturers have made a few hits too. Using sensors got really easy with Philip Harris's First Sense kit a nice plug-and-go system you could use on any computer, and things got cheaper with Data Harvest's Sense kit but only on Acorn computers.

Out this month, though you might have seen a preview at the BETT technology show and ASE science exhibition, is the Live system. This new sensing kit deserves double merit marks for being both easy to use and affordable, so it is an ideal starter for primary schools.

The Live unit is a puff bigger than a packet of cigarettes and it runs on a regular PP3 battery. There are three dinky sensors: the light and sound sensors are no bigger than their plugs. A temperature sensor (which measures from below freezing to over boiling point) is similar, but for a couple of feet of wire. There is also a computer cable and a plastic carry case.

Those who have seen the more established LogIT data logger will spot a similarity immediately, but they need to be aware that the LogIT allows you to record sensor readings in the field or the stream or playground the new unit does not. The Live unit only records readings from sensors while it is connected to a computer though amazingly, you can even do this on a tiny palmtop computer such as the Acorn Pocketbook.

All that now remains is to buy your software. You get a choice between Junior Insight (Archimedes, Windows) or Investigate (Windows). It's a difficult choice as both have merit for work with juniors. The kit also works with other software you find in secondary schools, such as the latest releases of SoftLab and Insight. For Macintosh software you should nag soon, they say.

There is an accessory pack of extras too, with a second temperature probe so you can compare the temperatures of two things. There are also two light switches which let you do the otherwise impossible job of timing, say, a toy car rolling down a slope.

Finally, there is a lamp (LED) which you can switch on as a warning device in a very basic control system. And should you want more still, though most primary schools might not, you can use most of the extras already available for the LogIT. So there is a clip-on display meter called CheckIT and esoteric sensors that measure humidity, air pressure, electric current and so on. These are supplied by Griffin and George.

So what is wrong with the new Live system? Well, nothing really, it depends how you see it: either it's a half-good LogIT or it's a really good kit in its own right. For doing great work in science and for primary schools who haven't touched this area at all, I'd say it's really good.

The basic Live kit costs 600 vouchers in the Tesco Computers for Schools scheme.Commotion, Unit 11, Tannery Road, Tonbridge, Kent, TN9 1RF. Tel: 01732 773399Griffin George, Bishop Meadow Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 0RG. Tel: 01509 233344Longman Logotron, 124 Cambridge Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge. Tel: 01223 425558Research Machines, New Mill House, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4BR. Tel: 01235 826868

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