Hands on: Exo Labs 1 and Accessories
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Exo Labs released the Exo Labs Camera and accessories to the public last summer. There has been great buzz around this product and we were happy to get our hands on the equipment and put it to the Tech-Savvy test!
The Exo Labs Camera ($395 MSRP) shines from the minute you pull it out of the box. We were impressed with how versatile and rugged the camera proved to be in a variety of situations. This camera is first and foremost marketed as a way to bring your microscope lab to the next level. The camera works with almost any microscope you currently have at your school with the thoughtful addition of multiple lens adapters. The construction of the camera really impressed us. Teachers know that equipment built for students needs to be durable, yet easy to use. The Exo Camera fits that description perfectly – the aluminum casing feels like it will stand the test of time. The process of switching lenses proved to be an easy task. There is only one way to orient the lens which makes changing lenses easy. Turning the lens a quarter turn locks the lens into place and you are set for more exploration. Extending from the camera is a 30 pin iPad cable with a power adapter port. The power adapter plugs into the 30 pin cord and powers both the camera and iPad. This attentive design is very appreciated in the classroom. By powering both the camera and iPad, a teacher can set up a station in the morning and know that it will last through the day. If you have an iPad 4 or iPad Air, the 30 pin Lightning adapter passes both the image and power to the device. Supporting iPad 2 through the iPad Air in addition to iPod Touch and iPhone (Generation 4 and up), the Exo Lab camera ensures maximum device compatibility.
The Focus App:
The camera is only as good as the software and we are happy to report that the Exo Labs app is really well done. Given the youth of this product, we thought the app may leave some things to be desired, but that trepidation was quickly resolved. The app (iOS: Free) gives you a variety of tools that highlight the versatility of the camera. One of our tech savvy requirements of an app of this nature is the ability to take images/videos and quickly save them to cloud based storage. The app exceeded our requirement by supporting exports to multiple cloud based services, such as Google Drive, One Drive (Microsoft), Dropbox, and Flickr. We would like to see the team add Evernote as an additional option in the future as many students use Evernote as their main note taking app. Once you have linked your cloud based account in the app, capturing and saving happens behind the scenes seamlessly.
The Focus App offers both Low and High Resolution settings. The low setting makes the image more responsive (while you are focusing the microscope for instance) and the high resolution setting brings out great detail in the image. The image on the left is of a fruit fly in high resolution. In addition, you can add different filters to really bring contrast to the image.
The app allows you to take point to point measurements, make annotations, drop pins, and create labels. All of these features add a level of depth to the learning process that was not available before this type of technology became available. It is easy to envision a student labeling objects under the microscope, then saving the image to his/her cloud based storage, and finally sharing the file with the teacher. Paperless learning makes for a very happy tech-savvy teacher!
In addition to still images, the app can be used to make time captured video. In discussions with science teachers in my building, it was the time capture feature that really set the Exo Lab system apart from the competition. Imagine capturing mold growing under a microscope for three days and have that condensed down to a few minute video. Because both the camera and iOS device are powered from an external power source, you can leave both on for days at a time and capture amazing video. To demonstrate the time capture ability I have a video of Skittles dissolving in water. This is 15 minutes sped up to 15 sec. (This video was captured using the optional zoom lens accessory discussed below)
The final capture option is to grab full video of the object. All of these formats are directly saved to your cloud based storage for your use in the future.
We can see many teachers wanting to use this technology to demonstrate different concepts to the entire class. To achieve this the Exo Focus app supports mirroring to an Apple TV. We wanted to check if we could daisy chain an iPad video out cable while plugging in the Exo camera. Unfortunately, this is a limitation, but to be fair it appears to be the limitation set by Apple and not an engineering oversight.
The app is available for Free from the iOS app store. You need to have the Exo camera plugged in for the app to function.
Exo Labs has expanded the capability of the Exo Camera by offering either the Benchtop Kit (MSRP: $125) or the Discovery Kit (MSRP: $125). Both kits come with a variable lens that gives a focal length of 2.8-12 mm. The Discovery kit comes with a fix positioned stand with a built-in LED light source. The Benchtop Kit comes with high-quality GorillaPod stand and bracket for easy attachment and positioning. Both work well but if I had to choose I would go with the Benchtop kit to take advantage of its versatility. The Exo Accessories make perfect sense in an elementary classroom. From plant and rock investigation to time lapse video of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, the possibilities are endless.
The Exo Labs Camera, App, and Accessories all get the Tech-Savvy Teacher stamp of approval. Everything Exo Labs has produced is high quality, easy to use, and offers numerous ways to enhance learning in your classroom. The addition of educational pricing shows Exo Labs’ commitment to the educational sector. This is the time of year where teachers across the country spend down remaining classroom budgets and building money. Exo Labs products should be on your purchase list, they will definitely be on ours!
For your cons, you list that you need an Apple TV for projection. There is a much cheaper way to AirPlay and mirror your iOS devices. Take a look at AirServer. It used to be only available on a MAC, but now has a PC version, which works very nicely. It runs about $14 for an individual license, but when purchased in mass quantities, comes at a $4/license price tag instead. We’ve had a lot of success in our district using AirServer in the past few months. Plus, it negates the need to have an HDMI compatible projector because it runs through your computer, not the HDMI out on an Apple TV.