KMi checks out cool hardware for PI research project

The thing about working at the forefront of technology is that you get your hands on all the really cool gadgets to see how they work and just how effective they can be if deployed in research projects. Currently working on the PI project, The University of Nottingham and the Open University are partners in a £1.1m project to help school students learn the skills of modern science. The three year project, funded by the UK ESRC and EPSRC research councils, is developing a new approach of ‘scripted inquiry learning’, where children aged 11-14 investigate a science topic with classmates by carrying out explorations between their classroom, homes and discovery centres, guided by a personal computer.

The KMi team have been seeking a mobile hardware solution that allows remote data recording in a user friendly way without being over-featured. Having considered various pda’s and the beautiful Apple i-phone, we have also chosen to explore the low cost laptop market.

Amongst the contenders to build the cheapest available laptop is the brand new Asus Eee PC 701. I was lucky enough to get hold of one of the first 2000 available in the UK. The low-cost Asus is a sub-laptop-sized computer running Linux on an Intel Mobile CPU with a solid-state hard drive, aimed at the student market. The product was only released in the UK on 1st November this year.

They key benefits for our research project are the size, weight and ease of use, not to mention the Sub £250 price tag.
For our student engagement programme where we are asking school students to collect science data from remote locations using text and statistical input. We needed a piece of hardware that has a half decent keyboard, a degree of familiarity and connectivity to a local wireless network. The Asus starts up really quickly, supports a really useful OpenOffice suite of apps on the Linux operating system, has a great keyboard and is ready to play.

As part of our lab wide assessment of current hardware this product stands out as having some really useful features for the price tag.

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