Monday, June 28, 2021

Phun with Phidgets

Recently I requested a free (for educators) starter kit from Phidgets. Phidgets are small controllers and sensors that are easy to use and with a helpful API. The starter kit includes a bunch of things to introduce the platform.

The Getting Started Kit provides an introduction to students and teachers. We offer a self-guided, online curriculum with challenges and projects for students.

• Programming languages: Python, Java, C#, Swift
• Device compatibility: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
• What's in the box: VINT Hub, Push Buttons (2), LEDs (2), Humidity Phidget and all required cables
• Suitable for school grades: 9 – 12

I spent some time with the starter kit today. What I was looking for was pieces that were easy to assemble and sample code that was reliable and easy to use. That’s what I found.

The first thing I did was assemble a sort of control box with two push buttons and two LEDs. I plugged the controller in to my laptop with a USB cable and fired up Visual Studio.  There are samples and tutorials in Python, Java, Swift, and C#. The systems work with Windows, Mac OCS, and Raspberry Pi. Projects are available in a wide variety of IDES including Processing, Eclipse, NetBeans, and Visual Studio among others. That;s a lot of options. IT looks like more languages are supported less directly.

So anyway, I followed the starter tutorials to get a feel for both the type of tutorials supported and to get a feel for using the Phidgets themselves. They were very easy to follow with a lot of code you can copy and paste to get started. In a classroom I would spend some additional time explaining the code in more detail. Students could use this on their own but would really benefit from the sort of deeper explanation a teacher can provide. I do like that there are suggestions of next steps without sample code for the student. That should encourage students to experiment a bit. Solutions are available to educators on request though.

Besides the buttons and lights I ran though the sample code for the temperature and humidity device as well. Equally easy to use. I was gifted a couple of other devices – a Power Plug Phidget and a Distance Phidget. I have some Raspberry Pis around here somewhere so my plan is to try these Phidget devices with one of them. That will give me a chance to learn something about the Pi devices as well. I can see a lot of potential for interesting projects combining Raspberry Pi and Phidget devices.

These feel like the sort of devices I have been looking for to do a variety of hardware and software mixes. In other words, physical computing. There are classroom sets available that while not cheap are in range for a lot of schools. You can’t give hardware away for free and these devices are high quality and well worth the prices. IMHO.

Note that I got the kit and devices for free but without any expectations of quid quo pro. I really like this stuff.

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