Research to Go

by Michael Mullaney on June 24, 2010

One of many unique research programs and platforms at Rensselaer is the Mobile Studio. An NSF-funded research project in and of itself, the Mobile Studio is an amazingly innovative tool that literally transforms a student’s laptop into a mobile studio.

It’s “mobile” in the sense that the tool gives students the experience of using an oscilloscope, function generator, multimeter, and power supply, all in a package they can carry with them and plug into their laptop via USB. It’s a “studio” in the sense that the cost of the Mobile Studio’s hardware and software is about $130, compared to more than $10,000 for comparable equipment. (Check out the hardware specs here, and the software here.)

Here’s one way to look at it, according to the Mobile Studio team:

Unlike teens of the ’70s and ’80s, students no longer have pre-college experience taking apart electronic devices and tinkering with the components of the circuit boards. Electronic products have become too complex and too integrated.

Electrical engineering senior Justine Fortier created the above video, all about the Mobile Studio, and recently won the Silver Award at the MTT Alive! Student Video Competition. The contest is held by the University of Vermont, and aims to “encourage more students to undertake design projects with microwave/wireless content and to attract more students to the engineering profession.”

Justine’s video is a fantastic introduction to and demonstration of the Mobile Studio and associated Rensselaer Red2 IOBoard hardware, with examples of exactly how it works and why it’s a valuable educational tool.

One example is students in Physics I using the tool’s wireless accelerometer and a pendulum to calculate the acceleration due to gravity. Here’s what Justine says about it:

It is typically difficult to calculate an accruate value for gravitational acceleration, since wired sensors inhibit the pendulum’s free motion. The [Mobile Studio's] wireless sensor enables students to obtain highly accurate acceleration data, and thus to calculate values consistent with the expected 9.8 meters/second2, as learned in lecture.

Read the back story of Mobile Studio’s decade-long history here, and also check out this excellent EE Times story on the Mobile Studio.