I really enjoyed reading Tom Igoe’s Physical Computing’s Greatest Hits (and misses) because he’s got a pretty exhaustive list of interesting (if overused) physical computing categories. I’ve seen examples of almost all of these, but I’m still a little surprised they’ve become tropes. Maybe I didn’t realize that there are enough people experimenting with this level of physical computing to make “Fields of Grass” an entire category.
The ones I respond most to are those that enable novel interactions, not just re-imagine existing interactions. For example, even though it may not be very “useful”, I enjoy video mirrors and mechanical pixels because you’re engaging in a new kind of experience. You have to explore the system a little to find the boundaries and parameters.
Contrast that with “Body/Hand-as-cursor” or “Touch Screens” which take a well known behavior and give the user a new vector through which to use it. These categories are usually conceptualized far before they’re actualized, so they tend not to feel very exciting when you use them in person.
I don’t know where “LED fetishism” falls along this spectrum, but it’s hilarious and true. That being said, “LED Throwies” was genius.
Here are a few other examples of common Physical Computing idioms that I’ve seen:
This generally takes the form of a screen mounted on a treadmill that displays a simulated running course. The course responds to the pace and difficulty level of the runner. Running on a simulated suburban sidewalk is now possible!
An oldie but a goodie, the virtual reality rig is a helmet with a screen on the inside of the visor that fills the user’s field of vision. The imagery displayed on the screen responds to the orientation of the user’s body, and creates the illusion of being in a virtual 3D environment.
This approach augments the image of a user with computer graphics, or inserts them into a wholly artificial scene. It’s often proposed as a way to “try on” clothes in a shopping context to see how they would look without having to actually try them on. It’s becoming more feasible with robust body tracking hardware like the Kinect.