Introduction to Physical Computing
Fridays 12:30p-3p
Instructor : Scott Fitzgerald
email: scott [at]

ofice hours: tbd

class syllabus
class administrave poop
your journals

Parts you'll need for the class. The computer store has a number of physical computing kits available with all the basics (Arduino boards soldseparately).

A more comprehensive tool list if you're going to become more focused on physical computing.

Remember to email me the pages for your class journals, sign up for a shop safety lesson and shop cleanup. If the computer store doesn't have the things you need for this weeks lab exercise, beg or borrow from a classmate, or try Radio Shack.

Etna Tool and Die was suggested by a friend for machining things locally, and there is a laser cutter and large format printer available at NYU's Advanced Media Studio.

Ohms law defined
Resistor calculator (thanks to Mike Luck for the link).
More about breadboards
Circuit schematic symbols

Week 1 (Sept. 8):

Sorry again for the delay in getting these notes up so late...

Sparkfun makes a prototyping shield (some assembly required), and this guy has made a cheaper alternative.

While doing the labs and looking at the tutorials, you can also work on getting to know your Arduino better through the sample code they have on their site. They also have some good (and growing) documentation on their reference pages.

Here's a zip file of the code we demoed in class

Week 2 (Sept. 15):

Code for analog in, as seen in class.

Using the Arduino serial monitor isn't the only way to debug our circuit. There are also programs like Window's Hyperterminal and the Terminal in OSX

We looked at 2 simple kinds of analog input, a potentiometer and photocells, other kinds of analog sensors include (but are not limited to) infrared & ultrasonic rangefinders, flex sensors, pressure (fsr), microphones, thermisistors (temperature), accelerometers, etc. etc. There are sensors for just about every kind of energy source you can think of.

Week 3 (Sept. 22):

  • Memory and variables: Decimal, binary, hex.
  • Analog input, what an ADC is.
  • Presentations Due: Observation assignment: Present and discuss observations.
  • Assignment:
    • Lab: Analog in; tracking changes with variables; practical jokes
  • Reading:
    • Physical Computing chapters 5,6
    • Norman, Design of Everyday Things, ch. 1 (in coursepack)
    • Norman, Emotional Design, Chapter 1, "Attractive Things Work Better".
  • A (very long) page about elevator logic
  • The elevator pitch, hate it or love it, get to know it. You should be able to explain what your ideas concisely to people in about 30 seconds.
  • This is the elevator I was thinking of at Ars Electronica.

  • Clay's tri-color LED PWM example
  • PWM with an analog input
  • Generate audio with a piezo

  • Examples from class
  • Week 4 (Sept. 29)

    Sound into fire (Don't try this at home!)

    Cherry Cam (video in armchair)

    Random numbers and Physical Computing Random in arduino (pages 1 & 2)

    Catdoor (can't find original pages anymore :( )

    Week 5 - (Oct. 6):

    • Serial output: Sending bytes out
    • Serial interpretation: ASCII
    • Serial to desktop: Into Processing
    • Presentations Due: midterm assignment descriptions and observations
    • Assignment:
      • Midterm initial prototype
      • Lab: Serial output and Talking to Processing
    • Reading:
      • Physical Computing chapter 7
      • Myron Krueger, "Responsive Environments", in Packer & Jordan, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, ch. 12, pp. 104-120. (in coursepack)

    Code from the examples in class (surprise inside). Pictures as soon as I get my stuff back from ITP.

    More on relays, transistors and Hbridges

    Week 6 (Oct. 13) Sweet!! A Friday the 13th in October!:


    Week 7 (Oct. 20):

    • Structures, enclosures, and presentation, or
      • how to make a box
      • a few basic construction techniques
      • thinking about layout of inputs and outputs; how spatial relationships affect the way an interface is read
    • Presentations Due: midterm assignment user testing results
    • Assignment:
      • Midterm user testing
    • Reading:
      • Physical Computing chapter 10
      • Nørretranders, User Illusion, ch. 6, "The Bandwidth of Consciousness" (in coursepack)

    Week 8 (Oct. 27):

    • Presentations Due: midterm assignment Advanced prototype (all projects to present)
    • Assignment: Decide what you want to do for your final project.
    • Reading:
      • Physical Computing chapter 12

    Week 9 (Nov. 3):

    • MIDI and other serial control protocols
    • Begin final project (group or individual)
    • Reading: Hoffman, Visual Intelligence, ch. 7, pp.172-184 (in coursepack)
    • Assignment:
      • Lab: Talking to a MIDI device

    Week 10 (Nov. 10):

    • Wireless (RF & Zigbee)
    • Presentations Due: Present final project concepts. Show observations
    • Project workshop

    Week 11 (Nov. 17):

    • Presentations Due: final project: show initial prototypes (half of the projects)

    Week 12 (Dec. 1):

    • Presentations Due:final project: show prototypes and user research (other half of the projects)

    Week 13 (Dec 8):

    • Presentations Due:final project presentation (half of projects)

    Week 14 (Dec. 15):

    • Presentations Due:final project presentation (half of projects)