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.


Active student participation throughout all aspects of this course will make your experience much more meaningful and is necessary for the successfully 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 the instructor if you must miss a class. More than 2 excused absences 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, 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.

>> 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 expected to create and maintain a personal website for this class. All research, documentation, and creative work should be posted on your site for peer review and comments. In-class presentation materials should be located on your website.

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Office hours/help:

I am available for technical help or to discuss individual projects 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. Please note: if your technical question is easily answered in the book or online, i will direct you to look it up--half of the challenge of digital arts is finding answers to your technical hurdles. If you have done research and still cannot find a solution, do not hesitate to email me. Open Office Hours each week are from 10:00AM - Noon on Thursdays.


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

This schedule is a guide and is subject to change over the course of the term.

Session 1



Buxton, "Less is more (more or less)"

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

Session 2



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



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



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?


Student web pages for class on servers.
First draft of midterm idea, individual meetings with Robert.

Session 5



From Physical Computing, Chapter 6: "The Big Four Schematics, Programs and Transducers" Pages 87-121

Transistors and relays: switching higher current devices.

Midterm ideas presented to the group.

Session 6



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

Balancing input and output reponsiveness

Session 7


In class:

Visit from John Iverson from the Neuroscience Institute. Work on midterms in class.

Session 8


Long Weekend | No Classes

Session 9



Midterm projects due. In class presentations and discussion.

Session 10



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

Serial Communicaiton
Serial to desktop

Session 11



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 12



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

Final project discussions and work.

Session 13


Final project discussions and work.

Session 14


Last Class. Final projects due. (All work from the term must be complete and located on student web pages by the start of class.)