‘Lab in a pocket’ awakens young minds to the world around them, making scientific inquiry fun

Researchers at the ABI have created a low cost, ‘lab in the pocket’ for schoolchildren, a technology to spark and nurture a scientifically inquiring mind by allowing them to take scientific measurements of the world around and within them, such as the quality of the water they drink, the air they breathe, the pace of their beating hearts and more.

Associate Professor Suranga Nanayakkara

It’s called the Kiwrious kit, and was designed by Associate Professor Suranga Nanayakkara and his team at the Augmented Human Lab (AHL) at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), University of Auckland. They have also collaborated with Associate Professor Dawn Garbett from the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Kiwrious has been selected as one of the 15 qualifying teams to go through to the final round of the Velocity $100k Challenge, a student entrepreneurship competition administered by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in which teams compete for a part of a $100,000 prize pool and a place in the University’s VentureLab incubator. 

The kit is comprised of eight sensors, which school children can use to take real-world measurements using scientific parameters, such as air quality, ambient temperature, humidity, light level, sound level, the rate of their own heartbeat and more. Kiwrious has been selected as one of the 15 qualifying teams to go through to the final round of the Velocity $100k Challenge, a student entrepreneurship competition administered by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

The students can then plug the sensors into a computer (Chromebook or any other laptop), and launch the Kiwrious Learning Platform on a Chrome browser. This learning platform focuses on encouraging students to make multiple observations, to represent findings in creative ways and share and discuss them with their peers.

“The Kiwrious kit aligns with curriculum goals, and offers students a fun and engaging learning experience that could transform their understanding of the world in which they live, and ignite scientific curiosity that they will carry through life,” says Dr Nanayakkara. “We hope that in the long run it will help inspire a generation of fearless problem solvers.”

Importantly, Kiwrious gives school children access to scientific tools that would, for many, be out of economic reach. It also allows them to use the kit spontaneously outside the class room, in their own time, when something about the world piques their interest.

The kit has been being trialled this year at five schools in Auckland; Panmure Bridge School, Epsom Girls Grammar, Mount Albert Grammar, Kings Primary and Kowhai Intermediate. Dr Nanayakarra and team introduced the kit to students with hands-on workshops, and developed an online platform to go with it.
 

The Kiwrious kit is comprised of eight sensors, which can be used to take real-world measurements using scientific parameters, such as air quality, ambient temperature, humidity and light level.

Dr Nanayakkara and his team of 15 joined the ABI in 2018. They have an overriding philosophy – to develop technologies that support and enhance our lives, which can be used in an intuitive and empathic way, to put more “humanity” into technologies.

They have created a number of devices aimed at making lives easier, including the Finger Reader, which allows the visually impaired to read text through a device they wear on their fingers, ChewIt, which users can put in their mouth and allows for discreet and hands-free interaction with a phone, computer, smartwatch and MussBits, which allows people with a hearing impairment to ‘feel’ the music.

“Kiwrious aims to help reduce the digital divide,” says Dr Nanayakkara. “Our work will have a direct impact on New Zealand's scientific future and our ability to develop the next generation of critical thinkers and innovators, ultimately leading to an impact on the nation's economic future.“We hope it will equip them to take an interest in, and address some of the problems of the world in which we live.” 

He hopes start a national pilot with Kiwrious kit with 30 schools from six cities starting in November 2020. As part of this, his team is offering training/workshops with teachers in November, to help them plan their teaching for 2021.

The initial development of Kiwrious was supported by a MBIE Curious Minds grant. Dr Nanayakkara, with his team, has set up a charitable foundation to take the project beyond initial research funding and create Kiwrious opportunities for every single children in New Zealand. 

Interested schools can contact Kiwrious team at hello@kiwrious.com. 

The Kiwrious Team includes staff and students from a range of disciplines which along with Assoc Professors Nanayakkara and Garbett includes:
Sonia Dupuch: Project Manager
Yvonne Chua: Designer
Juanpa Pablo Forero Cortés: Embedded Systems Engineer
Chamod Weerasinghe: Embedded Systems Engineer
Sankha Cooray: Software Engineer
Jiashuo Cao: Software Engineer
Qin Wu: Designer
Andrew Reis: Software Engineer
Deviana Reis: Curriculum Developer
Haimo Zhang: Research Fellow
Priyashri Shridhar: UX Researcher

 

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