Build a dirt cheap, tough-as-nails field computer in a Pelican case

IMG_20150720_233502091For and updated version of the BeagleBox, please go here: The BeagleBox 2: a dirt-cheap, tough-as-nails, 3D-printed, versatile field laptop.

Fieldwork is tough. You’re in the elements, facing wind, rain, and salt spray, sometime on an open boat far out in the Atlantic. You and your gear takes a beating. But you’re out there because there’s science that need to get done.

But your equipment is controlled via computer, and your data entry mandates a computer, which means your precious laptop needs to come with you. For graduate students and early career scientists, this can be a dilemma. I’ve see the calculations happen as my colleagues prepare for the field–do I take my one and only computer out into the field and risk damaging it, or do I leave it brute-force my way through sampling without it. That is, if they’re lucky enough to have alternative methods they can employ. For some gear, there’s no choice but to take the computer.

This equation is, counter-intuitively, getting worse. Our sensors, sampling devices, and scanners are getting cheaper and lighter. Rather than buying a $20,000 piece of equipment, you can get a $20 chip, but there’s a trade off, and the trade off is that chip based systems rely on external processing power, they need a general computer, and that means your laptop is coming with you.

I don’t like going out on the water with my laptop. Losing it would be frustrating and time consuming. It’s tough, but it’s not tough-as-nails. And it’s definitely not cheap.

So I tapped into the wealth of Maker experience I’ve accumulated over the last few years and build a new one, using a single board computer, some extra peripherals, and a 3D printer. And I shoved the whole thing into a Pelican case. Say hello to the BeagleBox, a dirt cheap, tough-as-nails field computer for about $200.

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Scientists’ Guide to Field Gear

Field work can be rough. Depending on where your research is located, field seasons may require months of planning, tons of gear, days of travel, and the possiblility that everything may go completely FUBAR at any point. The burden of a successful field season often falls on the shoulders of young graduate students, who may be designing and planning a major research project for the first time. We at Southern Fried Science would like to do a little to help make your field season just a bit easier.

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