PhotosynQ out in the world

Beta MultispeQ device with Android App on tablet
Beta MultispeQ device with Android App on tablet

Sorry for the long delay between posts. There’s lots of expectant beta testers waiting for us to get units out so we need to keep up good communication.

Pick and Place machine!

Though a bit late, we have shipped the first few beta (very beta) units! One took measurements of wheat fields in Mexico as part of the Poland Lab, while one is on its way to the Arctic, with two more staying behind at Columbia University for testing by the Griffin Lab. These units were a bit rushed, because of time constraints, but overall we learned a lot from the experience. The pick and place machine has FINALLY been delivered (see image), so that will dramatically speed up our production of the circuit boards and therefore shipments of the MultispeQ. Will have more news on that soon.

Also, I want to let everyone know that we’ll be at many a Maker Faire this summer, starting with the Ann Arbor mini Maker Faire May 10th (already happened, it was awesome), then the Bay Area Maker Faire in SF May 17th and 18th, and finally the Detroit Maker Faire July 26th and 27th. We’ll have devices on hand and we’re going to try to run mini experiments at the Faire which should be a lot of fun. If you live nearby, please come and check it out!

Ok – here’s a recap of what we’ve been working on since the last post:

Recent Improvements

1) Power consumption and power on/off. Yes, the devices need an on/off switch (duh), and we didn’t really plan for that until recently. Robert (on the second try) designed a very nice switch, which also includes the ability to shut down power via bluetooth or serial communication, which will allow the unit to save power and prevent users from draining the battery. It has another switch for a low power mode which further saves power.

2) Putting the “synQ” in PhotosynQ. We have a lot of software to develop to create the full circle of connections (MultispeQ device to phone app / chrome app to database to web) for all of the key components involved in taking a seemingly simple measurement (protocols to tell the device what to do, macros to calculate useful values from the raw output, project information, user information, device ID…). Taken together, the software is written in javascript, java, ruby, html, and c++ between the web, phone, browser, and device, so making everyone talk nice to each other has been a tricky task.

So I’m very happy to say that we’ve done it! Rather than write about it, I put together a quick video showing the different components, and how they connect. Note – the UI for most of this stuff isn’t completely finished, but all the key connections in place so that projects, measurements, macros, and users truly synq together.

3) Data caching – no need to always be web-connected. All of our first few users required that the device would still work even when not connected to the web. We knew this was important, but were planning to push it off down the road – needless to say we got it done. Now, if you’re in the Amazon rain forests and you want to still take measurements as part of your “Bioprospecting for amazing plants!” project but you have no internet, not problem – the data you collect is cached in the phone and sent to the database once you arrive back at camp (or wherever you have wifi).

4) Improving chlorophyll fluorescence measurements. Making better measurements and calibrating the device will be an ongoing process, but we made some important improvements to the Phi(II) measurement, which is often used in other comparable instruments including the ‘gold standard’ LiCOR. Phi(II) requires that the ambient light is measured, and then that light intensity is mimicked inside the leaf chamber, so the leaf can’t tell that you just clamped it receiving the same amount of light. We calibrated the light intensity sensor and actinic lights and managed to get it working. It’s fairly rough, with only about 20 light levels between 0 – 2000 uE and some minor variation between devices, but it works pretty well.

On the horizon

1) Finishing touches on the data analysis tool. Sebastian made an awesome data analysis tool that we can’t wait to get into the world, but it’s been slow integrating it into the new website.

2) GPS data for all measurements. Right now, GPS data is not included in the Android app – so you can’t make awesome maps of everyone you’ve taken measurements. Obviously, we need to fix that.

3) Enabling users to create custom measurements. Currently, only admin users can create custom measurements (aka protocols) and macros.

4) Easy measurement creation tool. If users will be able to create their own protocols and macros, then we need a nice UI to make it simple and intuitive, as the syntax of communication with the device is, well, not very pretty or intuitive. Sebastian cranked one out last week, and it’s a really good start. Here’s a quick snapshot of what it looks like so far. You drag and drop the variables, change the settings, and viola! you have a protocol JSON which you can use in your next project. This is pre-release but it’s moving fast, hope to have it up in a month.

Sebastian’s protocol creator to make your own custom measurement protocol for the MultispeQ

5) Real-time data logging for environmental measurements. Though designed primarily as a handheld device, you can do long-term data logging with the MultispeQ. As such, Sebastian included a real-time data logging feature in the Chrome app. So if you’re measuring CO2 over the course of a day, you can see each measurement as soon as it’s created and graphed before your eyes, instead of having to wait until the very end of the day.

6) More direct applications for MultispeQ measurements. As a lab of researchers who study photosynthesis all day, the question of “so what can I DO with all these measurements?” sometimes falls on deaf ears. But we’re working to change that by identifying more concrete and clear use cases for chlorophyll fluorescence, SPAD, and other measurements taken by MultispeQ. Professors Dave Kramer and Wayne Loescher have identified a pretty clear relationship between drought tolerance in beans and a special type of chlorophyll fluoresence measurement which is pretty easy to take. This

could be extremely useful for breeding applications, as you could select for varieties of interest much earlier in their life cycle.

Finally, I want to say thanks to Chris and carrythewhat.com who’s been shipping us MultispeQ cases he’s been 3D printing, and has helped make sure that our cases are 3D printable on a standard plastic extrusion printer (rep rap, maker bot, etc.).

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