Android Apps for Experimenting with Measurement and Physics

Most of us love our physics-based Android games, and all the technology that is packed into our phones and tablets. With cameras, GPS, accelerometer, magnetic sensor and so many other features standard, the average Android phone was a science fiction device only 20+ years ago. Individual devices for many of these capabilities would have been expensive and complex machinery available only to advanced labs or military applications. Now they are in the hands of every amateur scientist who wants them.

Its no surprise then that there’s people coming up with creative ways of putting these capabilities to real life scientific and educational use. It may not be as sexy as how the technology is used in gaming, but there are so many real life applications possible from a single device. Here’s a few apps that can get you using your Android’s measurement and sensing capabilities to the fullest.

Smart Tools has come up with a great line of apps that turn your Android into a measuring device.

  • Smart Ruler lets you place a small item on your screen and use the onscreen ruler to take the measurement.
  • Smart Distance uses your camera and an estimate for one reference figure in the photo to calculate distance.
  • Smart Measure does the same for effective distances from 1-50m. Great for amateur surveyors or even golfers!
  • Smart Protractor lets you either measure an angle in touch mode, or you can use plumb mode where you can check slope or level with a virtual weight attached to the protractor.
  • Sound Meter lets you measure the decibel level using the microphone.
  • Metal Detector uses the magnetic sensor in the phone to see if the Electromagnetic field (EMF) values change, indicating the presence of metal or other electronic devices.
  • Smart Compass uses the magnetic sensor to show a compass on the screen. So if you want to try your hand at traditional orienteering instead of GPS geocaching, you can too.
  • Speed Gun extends Smart Distance to turn your phone into a speedometer!

All are available in Lite versions that provide the basic functions, Pro versions with more and a paid Pro bundle called Smart Tools that adds additional functionality.

Physics Gizmo, by science educator and avid Android for education Phil Wagner, aims to give students or amateur scientists the chance to use the accelerometer for experimental purposes. He suggests you could use it for motion experiments like collision carts, while riding a roller coaster, free fall, linear motion – as long as you’re protecting your phone of course. Start the app, select the amount of time you want the phone to collect accelerometer data, push start and it starts recording. When it finishes it stores the results in a CSV file on your SD card, or you can e-mail or upload to Google Docs.

I’m excited to see how a whole generation of budding scientists and engineers will use their phones to make discoveries for themselves or for the benefit of humanity as a whole. I’m especially excited to see what my small sons will do growing up with access to these capabilities and more at their fingertips! For the Trekkies out there, it might not be a fully functioning Tricorder yet, but the capabilities and apps to use them are moving in that direction!

What are some scientific ways you’ve been using your Android device in your life and work?

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