Above the Clouds Computing – Phones in Space


Research students at Southampton University have devised an ingeneous way of conducting outer atmosphere research .

Collecting data for atmospheric science projects would normally require manned research aircraft at £10,000 per hour – but the Southampton team found another way. They took a helium balloon, instruments, and a HTC Windows 7 Phone, and sent them 60,000 feet into the air.

On the test flight, which took place on the 4th March in the Cotswolds, England, data was beamed back by the phone to the Cellular Network and the team’s own handsets. Tracking data was sent to an application running on a Windows Azure server, which calculated its course and predicted a landing site on a Bing Map.

The project is part of the University’s ASTRA (Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft) program and paves the way to using relatively low cost helium balloons as launch vehicles for instruments that are able to take measurements and samples from the upper atmosphere. It also demonstrates how Windows 7 Phones – choosen in this case for ease of application development – can be harnessed as mini computers for scientifict experiments.

For for information click here.

Learning to Handwrite With ICT

Handwriting is a critical skill and a fundamental building block in early schooling. Whilst some may argue that using computers diminishes handwriting skills, IT can in fact really help develop these.

To see what is possible, a great place to start is the Herbi suite of handwriting development tools.

I tried Herbi Writeabout for the Windows 7 phone – a HTC Touch – and was able to practice forming characters with my finger – to great effect.

Their Windows PC applications are terrific too – firstly Herbi Letters helps children to recognise characters through an incredibly simple game. I installed Herbi Writer on a Tablet/MultiTouch device, which enabled me to use a pen, finger or mouse to form characters – again this was presented as a simple game.

The Tablet PC opens up a range of options. For example, the Writing Input Panel on Windows 7 Tablet PCs corrects text, and gives learners the incentive to see if they can get the computer to recognise the words they are hand-writing. There are also cursive practice sheets for Word from Thefontmenu and templates from Office.com, and with a Tablet PC, students can write over the top of these. Another approach is to use OneNote, which will convert handwriting to text, providing it’s legible.

Learning how to form characters in East Asian languages can be particularly complex, but again we are seeing some interesting innovations. For exmaple, here, in Japan, 3rd grader students practice writing kanji characters. Click here for more information.

As hardware options increase, and the cost of pen-based input devices fall, we can expect to see a growing number of solutions that will help students develop and use this vital skill.