Innovation in the air at Bett technology show

31 January 2013
By Edward Gent
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Dr David Skulina with the Skoog Music controller at the BETT show

Dr David Skulina with the Skoog Music controller at the Bett show

Design engineer Arlan Harris with Horizon Fuel Cell Technology's fuel cell and electrolyser

Design engineer Arlan Harris with Horizon Fuel Cell Technology's fuel cell and electrolyser

Mantra Lingua's new palette being shown off by software engineer Chintu Chaudhary

Mantra Lingua's new palette being shown off by software engineer Chintu Chaudhary

VEX Robotics' claw robot being controlled by Head of Operations for UK and Europe Paul McKnight

VEX Robotics' claw robot being controlled by Head of Operations for UK and Europe Paul McKnight

Hundreds of innovative technologies redefining the classroom experience are on show at the Bett technology in education show.

The event, which runs at the ExCeL centre until Saturday, brings together teachers, education authorities and providers of the most cutting-edge educational technology from around the world.

Among the products on show was Skoogmusic's imaginative digital USB controller, designed to allow disabled youngsters to experience playing a musical instrument.

By pressing, squashing, twisting or tapping the spongy cube’s five colour-coded sides optical sensors feed information into powerful software that mimics every aspect of a variety of musical instruments.

Co-inventor Dr David Skulina said: “They are not just triggering a sample. Quite often children will have access to technology where you press a button and it triggers a sound or a cascade of events the child has no further control over, but this is fully under their control.

“You’ve got a direct correlation, which is cognitively very strong, between pressing the buttons and the sound produced and they also push back.”

The device was created by a team from the University of Edinburgh after a study commissioned by Scottish local authorities called for better access to music education for disabled children.

Dr Skulina said: “The primary outcome of that study was that there is no musical instrument for children with disabilities, so how are we best to improve access? The recommendation was that a new instrument be commissioned.”

And since its launch wider applications for the device have been realised, including helping with phonics, language therapy and music production.

Another product providing a range of educational opportunities is Horizon Fuel Cell Technology’s range of low powered hydrogen fuel cell kits, marketed and distributed in the UK by fuel cell specialists Arcola Energy.

The kits come with an electrolyser to create battery shaped hydride capsules from distilled water, the fuel cell itself and an Arduino micro-controller which combines with a specially created chip board to regulate the fuel cell, which can be re-programmed on simple software.

Arcola design engineer Arlan Harris said: “It’s an interesting piece of kit because it teaches about hydrogen cells and renewable energy but also the Arduino introduces the kids to coding at a very basic level.”

And according to Mr Harris the kit’s, which range in price from £200 to £600, can be a useful development tool for scientists and engineers interested in fuel cell technology.

He said: “Really, it’s a way of trying the technology for someone who says, ‘I want to have a go at that but I don’t want to spend £20,000 buying a gigantic fuel cell’.”

One well established product on show was Mantra Lingua’s talking pen, which uses  optical identification, technology to read audio queues on specially prepared books or labels to teach languages and assist the blind.

But the firm used Bett to launch their latest product, a palette covered with tiny touch sensors less than 3mm apart that can be programmed to respond to various areas being touched by playing snippets of audio, asking questions or triggering a record function.

Teachers can purchase readymade posters on a variety of subjects to overlay on the palette, or create their own and use simple software to attach audio segments to different items of their design.

Software engineer Chintu Chaudhary said: “The palette is just a step up from the pen. With the pen you always need to pay for our publications, but with the palette it’s all yours and you can make what you want with it.”

One company aiming to inspire the engineers of the future was VEX, who produce robot kits for use by design and technology departments, with more than  300 lines including pneumatics and a variety of sensors.

Kits come with instructions for one robot, but the pieces allow youngsters to come up with their own designs and virtual modelling and programming software help develop IT skills.

“Really the only limitation is the students creativity,” said head of operations for the UK and Europe Paul McKnight. “We give instructions to build one robot to give students an understanding of the way the system goes together because nuts and bolts are not something many young kids know how to use these days. But once they’ve built it they can adapt it as they please.”

The firm has created courses in line with school curriculums to go with their product, approved by the design and technology association, and also hold a design competition with a UK final held at the Big Bang Fair at the Excel centre in March.

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