Introduction to Physical Computing
Instructor: Tom Igoe
Physical Computing is an approach to learning how humans communicate through computers that starts by considering how humans express themselves physically. In this course, we take the human body as a given, and attempt to design computing applications within the limits of its expression.
To realize this goal, you'll learn how a computer converts the changes in energy given off by our bodies (in the form of sound, light, motion, and other forms) into changing electronic signals that it can read interpret. You'll learn about the sensors that do this, and about very simple computers called microcontrollers that read sensors and convert their output into data. Finally, you'll learn how microcontrollers communicate with other computers.
Physical computing takes a hands-on approach, which means that you spend a lot of time building circuits, soldering, writing programs, building structures to hold sensors and controls, and figuring out how best to make all of these things relate to a person's expression.
Week 1 (Sept. 7):
Week 2 (Sept. 14):
Week 3 (Sept. 21):
Week 4 (Sept. 28):
Week 5 - (Oct. 5):
Week 6 (Oct. 12):
Week 7 (Oct. 19):
Week 8 (Oct. 26):
Week 9 (Nov. 2):
Week 10 (Nov. 9):
Week 11 (Nov. 16):
No class Nov. 23: Monday classes meet this day
Week 12 (Nov. 30):
Week 13 (Dec. 7):
Week 14 (Dec. 14):
There is a lab activity for nearly every class in the first half of the semester. They are very short, simple activities. These are the basic steps you need to go through to understand the principle discussed in class each week. They're designed to help you not only to understand the technical details, but also to get a feel for what the technologies we're discussing can do, so that you can incorporate them into actual applications. There are application suggestions in many of them as well. I expect that each student will at least complete the steps outlined in the lab activity each week, so that you understand practically what it is we're talking about. Document any discoveries you make, pitfalls you hit, and details not covered in the class or the lab that you think will be useful for your fellow students and future students in this class.
There are two production projects and one observation project during the semester. In these projects, you will observe and document a possible situation in which you might use physical computing techniques and develop a prototype to fit the situation. In the production projects you will also test it and report on it.
For the first two projects, you will be assigned to work in a group. For the other project, and for the final, you may work alone or in groups, as you choose. There will be four to seven assigned groups, depending on class size.
More details on the projects can be found in the project brief.
|Journal & Documentation:
You are expected to participate in the class' online journal, which takes the form of a collaboratively-edited wiki. The purpose of the journal is two-fold. First, it is a valuable way for you to communicate to me that you are keeping up with the work in the class. I will read the journal to see how students are doing, and the journal should be updated regularly throughout the semester. At a minimum, reference to each week's work is expected, as well as reference to the readings, and thorough documentation of the three main projects and technical research. You may choose to document your major projects in a separate individual or group site if you choose, but you will be expected to link your site to the main site, and contribute to the class site as well nonetheless. Please avoid flash, shockwave, or other sites that are not text-searchable, as they won't show up on search engines for others to use.
Blogs are great for documenting your process, as they're usually defaulted to organizing the information chronologically. However, projects summarized in a blog can be confusing. It's often worthwhile to set up a separate page or pages to summarize your projects when they're done.
You should document your projects thoroughly. Plan in advance, and perhaps as a group, to have what you need to document at least your midterms and finals. Photos, video, drawings, schematics, and notes are all valuable forms of documentation. Explain the project at the beginning of your documentation, so that people who come to the site from outside this class will understand the overview before they get the explanation.
Don't overload your notes with code. If you've made a big improvement on an existing piece of code, post your new code, and link to the code you based it on (just as you would in citing a pervious author in a paper). If you only changed one part of an existing program, post only the part you changed, and link to the original. Make sure any code you post is well-commented, so you and others can understand what it does.
Always cite the sources of your code, the places you learned techniques from, and the inspirations of your ideas. This is the equivalent to citing your sources in a written paper, and copying code or techniques without attribution is plagiarism. few ideas come out of the blue, and your readers can learn a lot from the sources you learned from or were inspired by.
Work on this as you go, don't put it off until the end. Your fellow classmates will find your notes as useful too.
See the template with areas you should consider for each project.
A few good recent sample journals:
Participation & Attendance
Showing up on time, engaging in the class discussion, and offering advice and critique on other projects in the class is a major part of your grade. Please be present and prompt. Lateness will hurt your grade. If you're going to be late or absent, please email me in advance. If you have an emergency, please let me know as soon as you can. Please turn in assignments on time as well.
Laptop use is fine if you are using your laptop to present in class, or if we're in the middle of an exercise that makes use of it. Whenever classmates are presenting or we're in the midst of a class discussion, however, please keep your laptop closed. The quality of the class depends in large part on the quality of your attention and active participation, so chat live with your classmates in an old-school, oral way.
A list of parts needed for the first few weeks follows. You will end up spending money on materials in this class. It can be done reasonably inexpensively, by scavenging parts, reusing parts, and so forth, but more ambitious projects inevitably make demands on your budget.
Below are recommended texts for the course in general. Individual instructors may have their own recommendations as well. All of them are good inspirational guides for physical computing and computing in general. They are not assigned, but pick up at least one of them and incorporate it in your midterm journal, if nothing else.
Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers, Dan O'Sullivan and Tom Igoe ©2004, Thomson Course Technology PTR; ISBN: 159200346X
The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman ©1990 Doubleday Books; ISBN: 0385267746
The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, Tor Nørretranders ©1998 Viking Press; ISBN: 0670875791
The Art of Interactive Design, Chris Crawford, ©2002 No Starch Press; ISBN: 1886411840
The following are good references for electronics hobbyists. Take a look at both, and get one or the other as a general reference, or find an electronics reference of your own (a few more are listed in the books section of the site).
Getting Started in Electronics, Forrest M. Mims III, ©1983, Forrest M. Mims III
Practical Electronics for Inventors, 1st Edition. Paul Scherz, ©2000, McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing; ISBN: 0070580782
A longer list of books for inspiration and reference is available online at the books link.