(edit sidebar)
Intro to Physical Computing Syllabus

Research & Learning

Other Class pages

Shop Admin

ITP Help Pages
Tom's pcomp site
DanO's pcomp site

Print Syllabus

Syllabus Main? Labs & tutorials Books and Readings Parts & Supplies ClassPages


You may want to sign up for the ITP Physical Computing Mailing List as well. The phys-comp mailing list at NYU is for discussion of all matters related to physical computing, both at ITP and beyond. There are list members from current classes, as well as ITP alumni and present and past faculty with interest or expertise in physical computing.

Subscribe here:

   (required) your email: 

   (required) your name:  

   (required) set your password: 

   verify your password: 


The last few posts on the list


Useful books on the core concepts:

Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers, Dan O'Sullivan and Tom Igoe ©2004, Thomson Course Technology PTR; ISBN: 159200346X
Includes all the stuff covered in class and lots of advanced examples as well. This book was developed from this course. You can get through the course without it, but it'll make your life a whole lot easier if you read it while taking the class. The code examples in the book are not written for Arduino, but the concepts for each exercise apply to Arduino as well as the controllers described in the book. Even without the specific code, the examples will be useful, especially when combined with the labs in this class.

Making Things Talk, 2nd edition, Tom Igoe ©2011, Make Books; ISBN: 978-1449392437
Introduction to communication between computers, including serial communications, wireless, networking, RFID, and more. Though some of the material is beyond the scope of this class, much of it may be useful in understanding computer communications.

Making Things Move, Dustyn Roberts ©2010,McGraw-Hill/TAB ISBN-10: 0071741674 | ISBN-13: 978-0071741675
Dustyn's book is an invaluable guide to construction of mechanical things. Whether you're making a simple motor project or a Mars rover, it's a good place to get started.

Below are recommended texts for the course in general. You have readings from the first three. All of them are good inspirational guides for physical computing and computing in general. They are not assigned, but you'll find them to be useful reading in physical interaction design.

The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman ©1990 Doubleday Books; ISBN: 0385267746
If you design at all, or work with people who do, read this. A lucid approach to the psychology of everyday interaction and how the objects we deal with could be better designed to match the strengths and weaknesses of the way we think. His predictions about physical interaction design and information design, some accurate and some not, are interesting history lessons eleven years after the first edition.

The Art of Interactive Design, Chris Crawford, ©2002 No Starch Press; ISBN: 1886411840
Written in a very casual style, this book nevertheless is an excellent and concise summary of what interaction design is, why it is important, and what problems it brings with it. Anyone seriously interested in interaction design, physical or not, should read this book.

Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things Donald A. Norman. Basic books, ©2005. ISBN: 0465051367.
In this book, Norman counters some of the points he makes in his first book, The Design of Everyday Things, by pointing out that we do make decisions about design based on emotional reasoning, and that design affects us emotionally. He describes Human reaction to design on three levels: the visceral, or how it appears; the behavioral, or how it acts; and reflective, or how it makes us think and feel about ourselves through our association with it.

The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, Tor Nørretranders ©1998 Viking Press; ISBN: 0670875791
Makes the case that much of our experience of the world does not come to us through our consciousness; in fact, the majority of it dealt with pre-consciously.

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.

Getting Started with Arduino, Massimo Banzi ©2008, O'Reilly Media ISBN 10: 0-596-15551-4 | ISBN 13: 9780596155513
A straightforward beginners' guide to most of the beginning exercises in this class.

The booklet from the Arduino Starter Kit is also an excellent reference. Scott Fitzgerald, a frequent teacher of this class, was the main author. Starter kit PDF

Make: Electronics, Charles Platt, © 2009 Maker Media Inc, Sebastapol, CA; 1st edition ISBN: 0596153740. An excellent intro to electronics. Practical, readable, and enjoyable. Start here.

Encyclopedia of Electronic Components Volume 1: Resistors, Capacitors, Inductors, Switches, Encoders, Relays, Transistors, Charles Platt, ©2012 Maker Media, Inc, Sebastapol, CA; 1st edition ASIN B00COVJULI. A useful reference for all kinds of electronics components.

Getting Started in Electronics, Forrest M. Mims III, ©1983, Forrest M. Mims III
A very basic introduction to electricity and electronics, written in notebook style. Includes descriptions of the basic components and what they do, and how they relate to each other.

There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings, Ken Amdahl ©1991, Clearwater Publishing; ISBN-10: 0962781592 A light-hearted introduction to elecrical concepts in laypersons' terms.

Practical Electronics for Inventors. Paul Scherz, ©2000, McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing; ISBN: 0070580782
A more in-depth treatment of electronics, with many practical examples and illustrations. An excellent reference for those comfortable with the basic topics. The use of plumbing systems as examples to demonstrate electric principles makes for some very clear illustrations of how different components work. Good chapters on sound electronics and motors as well.

Fashioning Technology: a DIY Intro to Smart Crafting Syuzi Pakhchyan. Make books, ©2008. ISBN: 0596514379.
This book includes a nice introduction to basic electronics and a number of construction projects for simple electronic crafts. The construction techniques are aimed primarily at wearables and soft circuit projects, but they'reuseful for a number of other projects as well.

A longer list of books for inspiration and reference is available online at Tom's books link.

Parts needed for Intro Physical Computing

You'll need some electronics components to complete the work in this course. If you've done any electronics or microcontroller project development, you may have many of the parts already. We'll be working with the Arduino microcontroller platform, and you should be able to do the lab exercises for the course on most any Arduino-compatible microcontroller. For best results on the labs, use an Arduino Uno, Leonardo, or Micro, as that's what your instructors will be using to demonstrate with.

If you've never done any of this before, you might want to get a starter kit. Having tried and evaluated several of the starter kits for Arduino, we recommend two: the Arduino Starter Kit, or the The Adafruit ARDX kit. Both are available from adafruit. The Arduino Starter Kit is available from other distributors as well. The Adafruit kit is the best of those that include the Uno, a few electronic components. While the Adafruit kit is less expensive, the Arduino kit includes a detailed book written by Scott Fitzgerald, who teaches this class. The book contains a series of projects that help you understand not only the electronics, but also what you can do with a microcontroller.

For the in-class lab exercises, when there's a specialty module needed, like a radio or a specific microcontroller, we'll have stock on hand to lend for the class period, so you can try things out before you buy them for your own projects.

There are some electronics components available in the physical computing lab cabinet. Please don't hoard parts, so that we always have some available for everyone. We try to keep more expensive modules, like microcontroller boards and radios, available for loan as well, though there is no guarantee that these will be available right when you need them.

The NYU Computer Store carries kits to make your life easier. In it you will find enough parts to complete the basic instructions in each lab. They also carry a basic toolkit, with the minimum amount of tools you might need for the same (those tools can be handy around the house too). If you have none of your own parts or tools, purchase the basic parts kit and basic tool kit, at least.

Basic Tool Kit

You will also need some hand tools. The shop has tools you can use, but there are a few tools you should pick up for yourself. The NYU computer store carries many of these tools that do the job quite well. When you go to the bookstore to buy your kit, bring your student ID. The intro kits will be reserved for ITP students for the first few weeks of the semester.

diagonal cutter
diagonal cutter
wire stripper
wire stripper
needle-nose pliers
needle-nose pliers
digital multimeter
digital multimeter
drill bits
drill bits

If you don't want to buy a full drill bit index, you should at least pick up the following: 7/64", 1/8", 5/16", 1/4". You'll use these a lot, and to avoid other people dulling or breaking your bits, get your own. They're cheap, and it'll save you hours of aggravation.

Where Can I Get Electronic Parts in New York City?

The bad news is that this city has very few storefront outlets for electronics. If you need a last minute component, you've got three options, basically: Radio Shack (plenty of them all over town); The NYU Computer Store (around the corner on Mercer and Greene, soon moving across the street on Broadway); and 269 Electronics. Save yourself time and call any of these and ask if they have what you need before you go.

You'll end up buying most of your electronic components online, so plan shipping time into your project planning. Here are some of our regular sources:

Adafruit is based in NYC, delivers fast, and has many components and modules that work well for this class. A ground-based shipment from Adafruit will often arrive before a two-day shipment from other retailers. Their customer service on shipments is excellent, and their tutorials are quite good too.

Spark Fun has a wide range of components and modules to solve many common physical computing tech challenges. Based in Colorado, they're also pretty fast on shipping, and good with the customer service.

Seeed Studio has some really interesting components. They ship large orders free from Shenzen, China, but shipping isn't always fast that way. You can pay for expedited shipping though.

Solarbotics is good for motors and motor support components, but carries a range of other components as well.

AC Gears is a storefront around the corner from ITP that carries Arduinos, 3D printers, and the like. http://www.acgears.com/

There are many large distributors of bulk components like resistors, capacitors, transistors. They're not aimed at the hobbyist market, and their sites can seem a bit daunting at first, but they're very useful as you get to know how to shop. We use Digikey, Mouser, Jameco, and Newark frequently.

There are also surplus houses that sell overstock and discontinued items. While they don't always have the same thing in stock all the time, they're excellent sources of discount deals and hard to find items. All Electronics, Electronics Goldmine, and Herbach and Rademan are examples of these.

  Edit | View | History | Print | Recent Changes | Search Page last modified on September 07, 2011, at 08:49 AM