Assignments Spring 2021

Research Reviews

A lot has been written about tangible interfaces, from academic papers to manufacturing standards to popular media articles and more. Together, we’re going to read through as much as we can, taking note of trends we notice, and collecting summary notes for each other. Hopefully we’ll be able to put together some notes for a public audience as well.

We’ll do these in two phases. The first phase will cover the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction and related conferences. The second will range more broadly. In the first review, you’ll work in pairs to review and summarize as much material as you can. In the second, we’ll decide on how to organize ourselves depending on what we learn from the first review.

First Research Review

The ACM’s TEI conference has been a major academic venue for tangible interaction since 2007. For our first review, we’ll summarize the proceedings of the conference from 2007 to the present. In pairs, you’ll be assigned to two years’ worth of proceedings to review and prepare an executive report for the class.

These reviews will be presented in weeks 5 and 6 of the semester.

Related work: other ACM conferences: CHI, Ubicomp, DIS, and CSCW spring to mind. NIME might also have some useful material.

Second Research Review

The content of your second review will depend in part on the results we find from the first. The scale of it will be similar to the first, though the sources could be much broader. This will be more of a group investigation, reading widely to see who’s doing what, and what patterns we discern. A few possible sources are listed below.

These reviews will be presented in weeks 9 and 10 of the semester.

Possible book summaries:

Reading Notes for Reviews

With everything we read: what does the author offer that we can put into practice in designing tactile interfaces?


  • Read the abstract. What’s the nature of the article? Is it a report of a research study? A description of a new technique?
  • How is it similar to other works you’ve looked at? What themes or patterns emerge?
  • Read the references. What conferences, journals, authors, etc. appear multiple times? What are the notable references? 
  •  What’s the citation count? Download count? Any other relevant metrics?
  • Look up the authors. What are their backgrounds? What are their stakes in writing this article? Who are they writing for?
  • List questions as you go


In book reviews, include the following elements:

  • A brief introduction to the author, their background, and their affiliation. How does their experience or expertise contribute to the writing? What is their reason for writing the work? What are their stakes in the work?
  • A summary of the book. In a paragraph or two, what is it about? What is the main argument of the work?
  • What do they assume that the reader already knows? Were there elements or topics that you had to look up separately in order to understand the work’s argument?
  • Describe the writing style and language of the book. Is it understandable for a general reader?
  • What references do they provide for further reading that were useful to you?
  • Based on the references in this book, what books or other sources for further reading would you recommend next?


Description is important. We can’t design a thing until we can describe its properties and its behaviors. To that end, we will collect a glossary of terms describing tangible interfaces and tactile experience. In all your research, look for these terms, put together definitions, and bring them up in class.  This will be ongoing throughout the semester. There is no specific assignment date for this. Fill in definitions as you learn them and need them.

Component Tutorial

Pick a tangible component, experiment with it in a housing, and put together a tutorial for best practice with it. This might start as a new sensor report, or it might be a followup to an existing one. It might also be a review of a haptic output device. Test it on a panel with standoffs. Figure out how it’s best mounted for ideal use. Add instructions for mounting the device, and create or cite all construction and mounting design files. The goal is to both provide the basics to get a person started, and some advanced information for how to use the component well in a tangible interface.

Include or cite the following sections:

  • Description
  • Data Sheet
  • Description of example uses
  • Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Example Circuit Schematic
  • Example Microcontroller Code
  • Instructions for mounting the device
  • Design files for a panel mount
  • Bill of Materials needed to duplicate the example
  • Citations

A few possible projects:

What makes a FSR or FSP work best? What materials behind it, what materials in front of it? How should it be mounted? What are the main sources of noise or failure?

Joystick review!  Try a bunch of joysticks out. Explain the differences in electrical interface. Explain the differences in physical behavior. Explain what the design of each one suggests about its potential uses.

Haptic driver (DRV2605) detailed tutorial. Do some detailed builds with it. Where should it be mounted on a housing for best performance? Which patterns are affected in what ways by its position? Offer a qualitative review of the patterns and what they are good for. Build an interface for testing the patterns. Here’s a tutorial on it as a place to start.

Other useful examples to look at:

This will be conducted over much of the semester, as follows:


Propose a component. You can propose multiple components, only one will be done. Each student will do a different component. In your proposal:

  • Describe it and what it does.
  • Tell us why you picked it. 
  • Share the datasheet 
  • Tell us what the electrical interface is
    • Are there libraries needed?
  • Tell us what the physical interface is.
    • What connector is needed to make it reusable?
    • Will you need to make a PCB?

Bill of Materials

One of your proposals will be assigned to you. Research and summarize the details.

  • Specify the mounting design
  • Specify the connectors and support components
  • Specify any additional software needed

Construction Planning

It will take a few weeks for parts to arrive, in many cases. If you’ve done your research thoroughly, then you will be able to design and build the housing and write test code while you wait for parts to arrive. 

  • Design panel for mounting
  • Write a test program

Finish Construction and Documentation

Complete the assembly and experiment with what makes the component work optimally. Modify your construction to suit this, and finish your documentation with these details.

Duplicate and Verify a Component Tutorial

Once you’ve finished your production tutorials, you’ll be assigned to duplicate someone else’s work from their report. Along the way, take notes on what you don’t understand and share them with the original writer. When you receive feedback on your own work, update your original report with corrections as needed. Ideally this should go quickly, since the point of a component tutorial is to give readers a good start to using the component.