Sensing and Responding to the Analogue World
Have you ever wondered how motion sensors in a gallery installation or museum exhibit work? How does your movement trigger a video to play, or the lights to dim, or make things move? I’m always curious about the mechanics of interactive and immersive experiences, and in the final week of summer school at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design I found out how action gets mapped to data and how data triggers motion. I know, sounds like a wild ‘n’ crazy week, huh?
Let’s Get Physical, Physical!
The focus of the third week’s course, Physical Computing, was to look at computation using Arduino. What is Arduino, you ask? Used as a way to work with microcontrollers, Arduino is an open-source prototyping platform that enables physical interaction with technology and objects. It uses sensors and microcontrollers to translate analogue input to a software system, which in turn controls electro-mechanical devices. Arduino is used for art installations, communication devices, costumes, medical equipment and a multitude of interactive environments that you probably encounter everyday. Some great examples of projects using physical computing are Danny Rozin’s Wooden Mirror, Fabrica’s Tuned Stairway and the Melody Man Electronic Designer Toy by Carla Diana.
Our instructors David A. Mellis and David Cuartielles (two of the founders of Arduino), began the week by posing a few big questions: how do we map from action to data by using input to computation to output? In the context of building products, what do we as Interaction Designers need to sense and actuate interactions? How do we power them? Communicate with them? build them? We were going to discover the answers to these questions while making things spin, beep, blink, vibrate and propel using our laptops, Arduino and electrical hardware.
Following a crash course in electronics, we began tinkering with the Arduino board and software, playing with motion and pressure sensors, and servo and stepper motors. Although the learning curve for me was steep, I don’t come from a science or computing background, as I explored the connection between code, algorithms and interaction I began to get excited about the potential for using Arduino in personal projects, exhibit design and prototyping.
This is a video of our final radio prototype, Chi Sounds.
Hacking the Radio
After completing a few small projects over the first few days, our final project brief was to reimagine the radio, to rethink the radio user interface and build a prototype of the radio as an electronic device. We had three days to invent, test, and prototype our designs. We split into small teams, and my partner Peng and I spent the first afternoon brainstorming, sketching and making rapid-prototypes of our initial ideas. Our final design, an interactive radio named Chi Sounds, is shown in the video above, but I’ll tell you a little bit about the design process.
Peng and I began to explore the idea of a personalized radio, where the user could customize the receiver to a few favourite stations. We were thinking that interaction with today’s radio should be minimal and intuitive, involving just a few basic gestures such as pulling, tapping and flipping. We started to think about an elegant object in the home or office that was easier to use than a digital player.
The most compelling of our ideas was a kind of radio cube, where the user could select a station for each side of the cube. We could incorporate an accelerometer to sense the rotation of the cube, and an infra-red sensor for adjusting volume. The cube could be made as a mitred wooden box with a friction-fit lid, and any detailing could be made with the laser-cutter. We divided up tasks. Peng, a UX designer at Nokia, took on the computing work, and I delved into making a mitred wooden box so that I could build on skills I’d learned during the previous week’s Physical Prototyping class.
Using the hot wire cutter and some glue, I quickly made a styrofoam box with a fitted lid. Meanwhile, Peng tested several options for sensors that would bring the radio to life. Using the prototype, we were able to quickly adjust the size of the radio so that the hardware would fit inside and it was comfortable to hold. A couple of days of design intensity followed, but we referred again and again to the foam prototype to develop the radio concept, discuss usability problems and solve construction glitches. From the computing side, challenges with determining numeric inputs for the sensors, tuning the FM chip and the delicate work of soldering were an all consuming task for Peng.
By Friday afternoon we put the finishing touches on the radio, zap-strapped the electronics and battery together and fitted the lid onto the box and made our final presentation to the class. My classmates radio projects were incredible, some of them were Raydio, and a radio that you throw balls at to switch stations, a colour-sensitive radio, to keep pests away try Random Radio, and one with long-distance vision was Telescope Radio, and a few others here and here. Thanks to all my classmates and to the two Davids for an action-packed week.| 0 comments