Sensing Workshop

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Physical Computing: Sensing

Lecturer: Nathan Gates

This is the central repository for all information relating to the physical computing workshop.
All resources for the course such as readings, examples, references documents and updates will be here..
The sensing workshop is 4 weeks long and will culminate in a mini-project.

Im still in the process of finalising the Mini Project and research assignment brief, they will be put up shortly

Important Lab Information

We cover a lot of content in this module and expect a unique and considered application of this content to the final Mini-Project. .
Students are expected to attend all lectures as well as work independently, and consistently throughout this period (and the rest of the course) to deliver on the course projects.

Please look over this, it contains information pertinent to the module. As this the main communication channel for the course I will assume you have read it.

Week One: Introduction to Physical Computing

The first week will be a introduction to interactivity and electronics to get you familiar with the basic concepts informing physical computing. Please complete the reading before the start of the week.


Chapter 1 “The Post-Optimal Object” from Hertzian Tales: Electronics Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design (compulsory reading)

Introduction and chapter 1 from 'Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling The Physical World With Computer' by Tom Igoe and Dan O'Sullivan

Lesson One

What is Physical Computing?

  • Background, Examples, Use Cases
  • Introduction to Arduino: IDE and Hardware
  • Introduction to Physical Computing with the help of Arduino

Lesson Outcomes

  • Digital I/O
    • How to use the Arduino IDE
    • How to use a breadboard
    • How to pick a resistor to current-limit an LED
    • How to wire an external LED to your Arduino
    • How to use pull-up and pull-down resistors
    • How to read a pushbutton
    • How to debounce a pushbutton
    • How to create a "digital" switch with a pushbutton
    • How to use PWM to fade an LED
    • How to use "for" loops
    • Digital I/O in practice: DIY sensors

Class Code

Circuits and Homework


Lesson Two

Applying the concepts of digital I/O to sense the world; using simple digital sensors

RadioLab Podcast excerpt: "Furbidden Knowledge"

Lesson Outcomes

  • Digital Sensors
    • How to apply Digital I/O concepts to digital sensors
    • How to use the serial console to debug your program
    • Understanding Timers and Timing in Arduino
    • How to read a PWM input using the Arduino Library
    • Using external libraries with Arduino to interface with external components

Class resources

HC-SR04 module's Datasheet

HC-SR04 Library

Week Two: Analog Sensing and Serial Communication

Week two will be an extended exploration of the Arduino platform and focus on analog signals and sensors.


Chapter 3 “Para-Functionality: The Aesthetics of Use” from Hertzian Tales: Electronics Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design (Compulsory Reading)

Chapter 1 & 2 from "The Art of Interactive Design" by Chris Crawford

Lesson Three

  • Analog I/O and analog sensors
  • soldering

Lesson Outcomes

  • Knowing the difference between analog and digital signals.
  • How to read analog signals using the Arduino's ADC.
  • How to use voltage dividers to 'create' analog sensors.
  • Using thresholds to make decisions
  • How to manage analog readings using the Arduino Library's inbuilt functions.
  • How to use analog readings to control 'analog' outputs.
  • How to average analog readings using 'for' loops.
  • How to use strip board and solder basic connections

Lesson Four

  • Intro to Serial Communication
  • Briefing : Research Break Assignment
    • Mini-Project

Lesson Outcomes

  • How do I communicate to external devices using Serial Communications
  • Getting Briefed

Class resources

Research Break Assignment

Will be handed out in class

Brief for your research break assignment

Week Three: Research Presentations, Serial Communication Continued

Students are to present their research break homework to the class for feedback and critique, and discuss their way forward regarding the project.
We will continue looking at more robust methods of Serial Communication that you will incorporate into your final projects


Lev Manovich: "Media After Software" (2012)

Lesson Five

Students presentation to class for feedback and critique. After the presentation we will look at more advanced methods of Serial Communication

Lesson Outcomes

  • Student will receive critique and feedback from class
  • How to implement more robust methods of Serial Communication using handshakes and assembling your own 'data packets'

Lesson Six

This class will be used to recap on important concepts from previous lectures.
One-on-one consultations should be organized in advance due to class size

Lesson Outcomes

  • Recap of previous classes and concepts
  • Supervised lab time to work on / discuss projects.

Class resources

Week Four: Drawing Interface project Submission


DIY: The militant embrace of technology by Marcin Ramocki

Lesson Seven

Prearranged consultations and supervised class work

Lesson Eight

Students present and demo their final projects to class for feedback and critique
Students who do not present will not receive a mark for their final project

Mini Project

The Mini Project brief and documentation template

Mini Project Brief

This will be handed out in class

Documentation Template

Mark Breakdown

Mini Projects
Mid Year Exam
Personal tools