|Bringing the Benefits of the Mobile Studio Project to Ghana
Professor Kenneth Connor stood in a crowded room in Ghana in November, demonstrating how with a notebook computer and a customized plug-and-play circuit board Rensselaer’s Mobile Studio could transform almost any space into an engineering laboratory.
Connor, a professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, and director of education for the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, had been invited to the 4th International Conference on Appropriate Technology to conduct a workshop on the Mobile Studio. Thanks to the generosity of alumni Doug Mercer ’77 and Sean O’Sullivan ’85, Connor was able not just to demonstrate the technology but to donate it to two Ghanaian universities. Mercer covered the cost of the trip; O’Sullivan paid for the six notebook computers, Mobile Studio circuit boards, and other components that Connor brought with him and left behind.
As a result, starting this semester, students at University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) will be able to conduct experiments that historically have required prohibitive investments in laboratory equipment.
Funded, in part, by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, the Mobile Studio was developed at Rensselaer in coordination with alumni and experts from Analog Devices Inc. The system provides an inexpensive way for students to gain hands-on experience with electronic equipment anytime, anywhere. Students simply install the Mobile Studio software and connect the small Mobile Studio circuit board to their computer via USB port, and they can duplicate the experience of using an oscilloscope, function generator, multimeter, spectrum analyzer, and power supply.
The hardware and software cost about $150, compared with about $10,000 for typical lab equipment required to conduct similar experiments. Because the circuit board is about the size of a digital camera, students can take it anywhere. In fact, Connor packed all six boards, notebook computers, and some of the accessories, in his carry-on luggage.
“The board is built around a state-of-the-art processing chip from Analog Devices, so it has tremendous capabilities,” Connor said. “Everything you need is integrated in a tiny package that runs off the power of the computer. If you have a laptop with a fully charged battery, you can run the board for several hours.”
When the Mobile Studio was conceived in 1999, the primary objective was to use hands-on experimentation to engage Rensselear engineering students in “tinkering” to help them visualize and understand difficult concepts. Today, the vision has been expanded and the goal, ultimately, is to use the Mobile Studio to enhance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education worldwide.
In Ghana, Connor was reminded of what the Mobile Studio brings to institutions that don’t have the resources to build expensive labs. Shortly before he demonstrated the equipment, representatives from the University of Ghana were told that Connor would be giving them two of the Mobile Studio boards, plus notebooks and accessories. The remaining four Mobile Studio setups were donated to KNUST.
“As soon as they made the announcement, you could see the excitement on their faces,” Connor said. “They were thrilled at the prospect of having access to this technology.”
Key supporters of the Mobile Studio project are Analog Devices, the alumni mentioned above, NSF, and Hewlett-Packard.