Data logging update (TES January 2004)

Plug in a temperature sensor you bought a dozen years back, and global warming or no, you can bet it’s still measuring celcius as good as ever. But as PC systems change, and the equipment you plug sensors into improves, you can too often find that ‘upgrading’ means you have to start over and buy all your sensors again. Forever this was going to be true. Technology is a sad euphemism for ‘disposable’.

But this year starts with joy, especially for those who own sets of ‘LogIT’ sensors. The LogIT Datavision (Timstar 359) is a new generation logger with the distinction of letting you plug in those old probes to get measuring temperatures as before. What’s new is a data logger that displays readings on a colour screen so you can distinguish lines on a graph. Unusually the unit lets you do a surprising amount of analysis without going near a PC, though with its USB link, you can connect to one easily. The Datavision measures rapidly too, meeting the benchmarks that physics teachers set and yet still featuring the ‘press-the-green-button’ easiness that biology fieldwork needs too. As a progression from the black ‘LogITs’ to its ‘Datameter 1000’ successor, and at just over 100 more, we have here sensing gone sensible.

Another source of well thought out equipment hails from PASCO who have a neat, three-in-one (temperature, light, sound) sensor at a price to suit junior and middle school years. It does the essential tasks, is sold with a USB adaptor which will allow those starting out to add-on sensors from the huge PASPort range. New this year is a unit that lets you record mass from a weighing balance which will cheer up a good few chemistry experiments. In everyday reliability, which continues to be data logging’s downfall, this range leads the way with ‘plug in and go’ ease.

A trend to note is that many sensor systems now work with handheld computers. With the power of these devices encroaching on old desktop machines, even data analysis is possible on these very portable units. Long established is Texas Instruments for their calculator based kit, but now PASCO have ‘PowerLink’ which is a handy bridge between their PASSPort range and a Palm PC that sells for under a 100. The software is very easy too.

From Matrix Multimedia comes the ‘Flowlog’ data logger which will also ‘talk’ to Palm PC’s as well as work with a PC. Intriguingly it sends data to the Palm PC using an infra-red link - and has an identifier to allow you to use lots of them simultaneously in a class.

Another unit, the Trilog from Economatics acts as a tidy base to hold the Palm PC. Uniquely, as well as sensors it comes with a mini-video camera to record the experiment. A starter kit (436) includes the abundance of connectors to make it all possible.

While the ‘Palm’ seems to be the portable computer of choice, Data Harvest have the ‘Easysense Flash logger’ (125 CHECK) for those keen on Microsoft’s Pocket PC. Unusually, the accompanying software is as well featured as you find on the PC. And when we reviewed it last year, this tiny unit worked especially well when plugged into space spacing laptops and the Tablet PC’s. This year, the ‘Easysense Flash logger’ won a BETT Award.

Those who’ve invested heavily in the old Philip Harris ranges, and many schools have, can give them a lease of life with the fast recording Logbook ML from Sciencescope. The sensors work seamlessly alongside Sciencescope’s own which including an interesting infra red distance sensor’ which acts as an electronic ticker tape.

For the tightest budget, the SciSci data logger from Valiant Technology is finally available at just under 100 for a versatile unit with a display screen. An add-on multi-sensor (temperature, light, sound) joins the trend for all-in-one sensors. Finally Instruments Direct have the vast Vernier range for PC, Palm, and Texas Instruments calculators.

Primary schools will have an easier time because nearly all the makers, such as PASCO and LogIT offer an affordable starter kit. Data Harvest will have a new unit for the BETT Show while the Advisory Unit have what may be the first portable weather logger. Called the Kestrel 4000 Pocket Weather Tracker (from 335) this is a self-contained unit able to measure pressure, humidity, altitude wind speed and more on your treks up Snowdonia.

The BETT Show (London, annually January) is one of the biggest showcases of data logging gear. Big and burgeoning, with lots of systems each going their own sweet way with little commonality, the only respite comes from Logotron’s ‘Data logging Insight’ software which works across many different systems. Look out versions for primary and secondary schools, for PC and Mac and helping to salvage yesterday’s gear.

Roger Frost is a science and ICT consultant

Must see (2004)

‘LogIT Datavision’ – from Timstar / Griffin Education

Palm PC data logging and electronic balance interface – from PASCO

‘Flowlog’ low cost system – from Matrix Multimedia

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