Course Description:

This course aims to extend our notions of the creative potential of computers by exploring uses beyond standard mouse/keyboard/screen interaction. Moving away from these restrictions the course introduces students to basic electronics and programming a microcontroller, a single-chip computer the size of a postage stamp, to read sensors placed in physical objects or the environment. Projects are designed to provide students with basic skills that can be applied to individual creative projects. Through readings, discussions, design of individual and collaborative projects, students are expected to develop an articulate, theoretical basis for conceptualizing and discussing works presented in class as well as their own creative projects. Students are required to keep personal websites for this class and need to possess the skills necessary to do this.

Wednesday, 10:00a.m. - 12noon and 2p.m. – 3:45p.m.


Active student participation throughout all aspects of this course will make your experience much more meaningful and is necessary for the successful completion of the assigned work. There are reading/research assignments, weekly discussions, student presentations, critiques and the production of work during this course. Students are expected to be present for all class meetings. Please email me if you must miss a class. More than 2 absences or consistent tardiness will seriously jeopardize your standing in this course.

Students will be evaluated based on the following: Participation/attitude, creative/conceptual work, technical dexterity and progress over the term.

Midterm Project:

Drawing upon our readings and skills acquired, students work to create small scale creative projects that prototype an idea that may expand on one of the topics discussed in class or become a part of a larger scale final project. All work is to be documented on personal websites (include photographs, schematics, influences and research.)

Final Project:

Drawing upon our readings and skills acquired, students work to create their own creative physical computing projects. Students may choose to work individually or as a group. The instructor must approve projects and all research is to be documented on personal web sites (include photographs, schematics, influences and research.)

>> I do not accept late work! <<


All students are expected to visit and contribute to the class weblog on a regular basis. Each student is also expected to create and maintain a personal website for this class. All research, documentation (include photographs, sketches, diagrams etc), and creative work should be posted on your site for peer review and comments. Individual websites should be updated weekly and include all of your work for this course. In-class presentation materials should be located on your website.

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Office hours/help:

I am available for help or to discuss individual ideas, questions, or concerns via office hours and email. If you would like to schedule a time to meet with me, please check my calendar (link above) and email me an appropriate time that works with both our schedules. Please do not leave voice mail! I am also readily available via email and will regularly respond within a few hours.

Bang-Geul Han is the Digital Arts Technician and has regular help hours each week. For more information, please visit the POD website.


Dan O'Sullivan and Tom Igoe, Physical Computing, Thomson, 2004. (Available at the Bennington Bookstore)


Following are basic supplies you will need to get started with the class. Additional supplies will be determined by your project ideas. We supply everyone with a Basic Stamp and prototyping board.

Toolbox to store your goods. (home depot or walmart @ $5.00)
USB Serial Adapter 'USA-19HS’ (For use with a MAC)
CABLE,SRL,M-F,6' part# 208581
AC-to-DC Adapter part# 273-1667
Power Leads Adaptaplug part# 273-1742
Jumper Wire part# 276-173

This document is a guide and will change over the term, check back often!

Session 1: September 6

Introduciton to class. What is physical computing?
Digital vs. Analog

Session 2: September 13

Buxton, "Less is more (more or less)"
and From Physical Computing, "Introduction", Chapter 1: "Electricity" and Chapter 2: "Shopping"
Intro to Electronics: Definitions of components, reading a meter, reading a schematic, Ohm's Law, soldering.


Supplies outlined in session 1

Session 3, September 20

From Physical Computing, Chapter 3: "Building Circuits" and Chapter 4: "The Microcontroller"

Microcontrollers: what are they? different types and levels
Intro to Basic Stamp (BS2)
BS2 programming
Digital Input & Output

Session 4: September 27

From Physical Computing, Chapter 5: "Programming" and
Myron Krueger, "Responsive Environments", in Packer & Jordan, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, ch. 12 pp. 104-120

Memory and variables.
Analog input/output: What is an ADC?

Due :

Student web pages for class on servers.
First draft of midterm idea, individual meetings with Robert.
Session 5: October 4

From Physical Computing, Chapter 6: "The Big Four Schematics, Programs and Transducers" Pages 87-121Transistors and relays: switching higher current devices.

Midterm ideas presented to the group.

Session 6: October 11

From Physical Computing, Chapter 6: "The Big Four Schematics, Programs and Transducers" Pages 121-136 and
Norman, Design of Everyday Things ch. 1

Balancing input and output reponsiveness

Session 7: October 18

In Class :
Review and Work on midterms in class.

Session 8: October 25

Midterm projects due. In class presentations and discussion.

Session 9: November 1

From Physical Computing, Chapter 7: "Communicating between Computers" Pages 137-161

Serial Communicaiton
Serial to desktop

Session 10: November 8

From Physical Computing, Chapter 7: "Communicating between Computers" Pages 162-169 and
Nørretranders, User Illusion, chapter 6 "The Bandwidth of Consciousness"

Student idea presentations on Final projects.

Session 11: November 15

From Physical Computing, Chapter 8: "Physical Interaction Design"

Final project discussions and work.

November 22 Thanksgiving Holiday, NO CLASS

Session 12: November 29


Review materials.

Final project discussions and work.

Session 13: December 6

Final project discussions and work.

Session 14: December 13

Last Class. Final projects due.

  Robert Ransick Physical Computing, Fall 2006 Bennington College
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