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Putting a Physics Lab in a Student’s Pocket

Putting a Physics Lab in a Student s Pocket IEEE Spectrum


Two years ago, Clifton Roozeboom, a Stanford Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering, was calibrating some new sensors—and getting frustrated. He didn’t mind the struggle to get data off of his own experimental devices—that was to be expected. But why, he wondered, was it so hard to pull data from commercial sensors? He had to buy specialized sensors that were able to record measurements, then build hardware to communicate between the sensors and computer, and develop custom programs to store the data. In a world in which smart phones talk to fitness trackers and door locks and kitchen scales, why couldn’t they talk to sensors used in experiments?

So he built a package of sensors that did just that—communicated wirelessly with a smart phone—and went on with his research. A few years ago, that might have been where the story ended. But in this era of startup fever, particularly in Silicon Valley, especially at Stanford, it would be odd for a student designing anything not to at ponder, at least for a moment, if he could start a company to sell his gadget.

Now Roozeboom is CEO of PocketLab, currently based in Redwood City, Calif. The company has a product: a $98 box about the size of a Matchbox car that contains an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer, a pressure sensor, a temperature sensor, and a wireless transmitter.

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What a neat gift idea for a kid who likes to tinker!

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