What is Probeware?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Probeware is scientific equipment which allows probes to be interfaced with software and computer systems for the purpose of collecting, interpreting, and analyzing data. There are a number of applications for probeware, ranging from interactive labs for elementary schoolers learning about science to sophisticated systems used to gather data in scientific labs and long-term field research projects. A number of scientific companies make probeware and accessories, and some enterprising scientists have also designed their own.

Scientific equipment that is interfaced with software and computer systems to collect, interpret and analyze data is called Probeware.
Scientific equipment that is interfaced with software and computer systems to collect, interpret and analyze data is called Probeware.

Historically, data picked up from laboratory probes had to be noted in a lab book or entered in a computer system by the scientist. This was a somewhat cumbersome system which slowed the rate at which data could be collected, and made it more challenging to analyze data. With probeware, the probe talks directly to computer software, providing real-time data. As the data enters the software, it can be organized and presented in a variety of ways to help researchers interpret it, and raw data can also be run through various calculations to return useful information.

In a simple example of probeware, a student in a science lab could clip a probe into a cylinder filled with a liquid, and the probe could return temperature data as the student performed various experiments. More sophisticated probes could return information about dissolved gases and other data which might be of use. Having the probe record the data would free the student up to focus on personal observations and running the experiment. The probe could also take huge numbers of measurements, with the students sifting through them later to look for notable information, and the software could analyze the data with graphs, charts, and other presentational techniques to help the student understand what occurred over the course of the experiment.

In addition to being used for individual procedures, probeware can also be utilized for long-term monitoring projects. For example, probes inserted behind a dam could return constant data about temperature, water flow, silt levels, and so forth. This could enable long term observations and studies of the conditions behind the dam, and it could also be used for emergency alerts so that the dam's staffers would know when a problem was emerging. The software may interact with calculators, computers, and handheld devices.

The cost of probeware systems varies, depending on the sophistication of the software and the probes. The more features the equipment has, the more expensive it will generally be. When purchasing probeware, people may want to think about how they will be using the probes and what they want to accomplish. Some other considerations include which computer platforms the probeware will interface with and what kind of product support is offered to customers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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