27 September 2022

Innovative unPhone helps students learn and be creative

A locally manufactured device that looks similar to a mobile phone is offering a low-energy route for students to learn and be creative in the Internet of Things (IoT).

unPhone rolling off the production line
The unPhone rolling off the production line at Pimoroni

The unPhone - developed by researchers from the University's Department of Computer Science in partnership with Sheffield-based electronics company, Pimoroni, and repair enthusiast Gareth Coleman - is designed to bring the low power world of microcontrollers to a wider set of creatives, technologists and innovators. The device, which is currently used by students on the Department’s popular IoT course, will be on sale to the general public from early 2023.

Today’s smartphones squeeze high-performance computers into a hand-held package. They rely on high power microprocessors and lots of other resources to perform their miracles.

The unPhone uses fewer resources than smartphones, and, as such, offers a more environmentally friendly way to explore alternative communications and mobile control applications.

unphone in action

The unPhone deploys IoT technology in a phone-like package to encourage innovation and experimentation. It is targeted at anyone interested in digital innovation including students, researchers, developers, businesses and members of the public. 

The Raspberry Pi has demonstrated how we can improve computer science education in schools, and what we’ve done is to take that model in a slightly different direction.

“The development of IoT in education and beyond is becoming increasingly important, so we want to make it simpler for students, educators, makers and developers to learn, be creative and blaze a trail in this rapidly growing field.

“The unPhone gives our students the opportunity to create new gizmos from scratch in a three month course. This rapid invention cycle was inconceivable even ten years ago.”

Hamish Cunningham

Unphone designer and Professor of Internet Computing in the Department of Computer Science

The device has many more potential uses, such as in the emerging field of ‘Smart Farming’ - the process of integrating technology into agriculture to help meet the demands of a growing population in a sustainable way.

Students at Sheffield will also have the chance to use the device for innovative research projects around Smart Farming, including at the University’s Institute for Sustainable Food.

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