The Manylabs Data Flow project is centered around a web interface that lets students create diagrams that link sensors and actuators using various mathematical operations. These sensors and actuators can be used for various classroom science experiments, including both in-class and multi-day projects.

The project is being run by the Concord Consortium and is funded by a grant from the NSF. Manylabs is a subawardee on the grant and is focused on the technical development of the software and hardware.

System Design

We have several design goals:

  1. work with computers that schools already own (Chromebooks, Windows laptops, Mac laptops, etc.)
  2. automatically detect and identify sensors/actuators (just plug the device in and within a few seconds data shows up on the screen)
  3. support un-attended data collection (e.g. measuring temperature overnight when the student laptops are packed away)
  4. support cameras as sensing devices (also unattended for doing long-running timelapses)

We're currently using Raspberry Pi computers as controllers. The sensors/actuators are plugged into the Raspberry Pi using USB cables. The Rasbperry Pi sends sensor data to the student's computer wirelessly (via WiFi and/or Bluetooth).

In a classroom we expect that the controllers (Raspberry Pis) are just viewed as connector boxes; they will not typically have a screen, keyboard, or mouse. All interaction with the controllers will happen via the web interface from student devices.

Our goal is to find a manufacturer/distributor for pre-built/pre-programmed sensor/actuator devices so that they are widely available to the general public and can be used without any programming or soldering required.

Sensors and Actuators

We currently support the following sensors and other input devices:

We also support the following actuators:

We'll be adding more sensors and actuators soon.