Syllabus

Originally written on June 24, 2014 by admin
Last modified on September 6, 2016 by Jeffrey Feddersen

Introduction

Physical Computing is an approach to learning how humans communicate through computers that starts by considering how humans express themselves physically. In this course, we take the human body as a given, and attempt to design computing applications within the limits of its expression.

To realize this goal, you’ll learn how a computer converts the changes in energy given off by our bodies (in the form of sound, light, motion, and other forms) into changing electronic signals that it can read and interpret. You’ll learn about the sensors that do this, and about simple computers called microcontrollers that read sensors and convert their output into data. Finally, you’ll learn how microcontrollers communicate with other computers.

To learn this, you’ll watch people and build devices. You will spend a lot of time building circuits, soldering, writing programs, building structures to hold sensors and controls, and figuring out how best to make all of these things relate to a person’s body.

Safety Requirement: Some time in weeks 1 – 3 attend a tool safety session in the shop! Even if you are an experienced fabricator, everyone is required to take a safety session if planning to use or be in the shop.

Class Structure

Parts Used in Class

You’ll be building a lot of projects in this class, both electronic and mechanical devices. All of your projects can be rough drafts, as long as they work to show the interaction you want. The electronic exercises will be demonstrated with Arduino microcontrollers and a variety of sensors and actuators. The details of what parts you need can be found on the Parts Needed for Physical Computing page.

There are passive components like resistors, LEDs and capacitors available in the shop for your use, and you can check Arduinos and other controllers out from the equipment room if you need something last minute. The E.R. parts are there for you to “try before you buy.” They’re a great way to get to know a sensor or part to see if it will do what you need. Here is a list of the E.R. parts. Please don’t hoard parts from the shop, so that others can use them as well. Take only what you need for a particular project.

A Note on Materials

You’ll go through a lot of construction materials in this class. To save money and save the environment, consider reusing materials. Cardboard boxes and used plastic food containers can sometimes make great housings for an electronic prototypes.  Paper mat board and cardboard can make great housings and control surfaces. You will save yourself some money in the process if you do this.  You’re not expected to make polished, production-ready devices in this class, so don’t waste time and money on high-end plastics and metals when you don’t have to.

About Assignments

Journal & Documentation


Week-by-Week Class Schedule

Below are the topics for each week, and the assignments for the following week. The Class discussion links for each week cover what we’ll talk about in class. The related videos cover the same material, in video form. Some of the videos will show you that week’s labs, step-by-step. Other videos cover related material  that’s helpful for learning about building projects. The Assignments, Readings, and Blog Posts cover what you should do for the following week.

Class 1

Dates of this class
Wed. 7 Sept. 2016
Thu. 8 Sept. 2016

Class Discussion Topics

  • What is physical interaction?
  • What does the user do?
  • Code as narrative instructions
  • Pseudocode

In-Class Activity – Fantasy Device

Assignments for next class

  • Get the basic parts and tools that you’ll need for class. Order early, as you’ll need things for week 2.
  • Familiarize yourself with the components you bought.
  • Set up your Phys Comp blog and e-mail the URL to your instructor.
  • Sign up for the PComp Mailing List here
  • Review the material to be covered next week, and  come to next class with questions.

Readings For Next Class

Blog Post for Next Class – What is interaction?

Class 2

Dates of this class
Wed. 14 Sept. 2016
Thu. 15 Sept. 2016

Material Covered This Week

In-Class Activity – Electronics Labs

Assignments for next class

  • Review the material to be covered next week, and  come to next class with questions.
  • Do the labs that were covered in class this week, and come up with a simple application for switches and LED circuits.
  • Electronics Quiz Fill out this quiz, print it out to draw schematics where necessary, and return to your instructor. These quizzes are not graded, but they give us and you an idea of how much you’re understanding. If you have trouble answering the questions on this quiz without looking up the answers, then you should schedule some time office hours with your instructor to catch up.

Readings for next class

Class 3

Dates of this class
Wed. 21 Sept. 2016
Thu. 22 Sept. 2016

Material Covered This Week

In-Class Activity – Digital & Analog Labs

Assignments for next class

  • Review the material to be covered next week, and  come to next class with questions.
  • Do the labs that were covered in class this week, and come up with a simple application using digital or analog input and digital output.
  • Digital In and Out Quiz Fill out this quiz, print it out to draw schematics where necessary, and return to your instructor. These quizzes are not graded, but they give us and you an idea of how much you’re understanding. If you have trouble answering the questions on this quiz without looking up the answers, then you should schedule some time office hours with your instructor to catch up.

Readings for next class

Blog Post for next class – Observation

Class 4

Dates of this class
Wed. 28 Sept. 2016
Thu. 29 Sept. 2016

Material Covered This Week

In-Class Activity – Analog Out

Assignments for next class

  • Review the material to be covered next week, and  come to next class with questions.
  • Do any of the labs that were covered in previous weeks that you haven’t already done, and come up with a simple application using what you’ve learned from them.
  • If you haven’t shown a small project in any of the classes so far, you’ll be called on next week to show something. So be prepared.
  • Analog In and Out Quiz Fill out this quiz, print it out to draw schematics where necessary, and return to your instructor. These quizzes are not graded, but they give us and you an idea of how much you’re understanding. If you have trouble answering the questions on this quiz without looking up the answers, then you should schedule some time office hours with your instructor to catch up.

Videos

Now that you understand the basics of analog and digital output, these videos will help you to understand how sensors interface to microcontrollers, and how to read the technical datasheets that explain different electronic components.

Class 5

Dates of this class
Wed. 5 Oct. 2016
Thu. 6 Oct. 2016

Class Discussion Topics

  • Review of digital and analog input and output
  • Discuss how to read data sheets

In-Class Activity

In this class we’ll review what we’ve discussed in the first four weeks, and answer questions on any of the material covered so far. We’ll also call on any students who haven’t yet demonstrated a simple project from the early labs to show some of their work.

Assignments for next class

  • Review the material to be covered next week, and  come to next class with questions.
  • Review and of the labs that gave you trouble in the past, and do them again to reinforce the concepts in your mind.

Videos

The following videos aren’t directly related to next week’s material, but they offer many helpful tips on making projects. Now that you’ve got some of the basics of circuits and code down, you may find these useful for figuring out how to build projects.

Readings for next class

Class 6

Dates of this class
Wed. 12 Oct. 2016 (Note – Jeff’s class is rescheduled to Friday at 9AM)
Thu. 13 Oct. 2016
Friday, 14 Oct. 2016 – Jeff’s make up session at 9AM.

Material Covered This Week

In-Class Activity – Introduction to Serial Communication

Assignments for next class

  • Review the material to be covered next week, and  come to next class with questions.
  • Do any the labs that were covered in class this week. Make a serial application that controls one of the animation projects you’ve done in intro to computational media with analog sensor data from an arduino, sent to the browser serially, as shown in this week’s lab.
  • Serial Quiz Fill out this quiz, print it out to draw schematics where necessary, and return to your instructor. These quizzes are not graded, but they give us and you an idea of how much you’re understanding. If you have trouble answering the questions on this quiz without looking up the answers, then you should schedule some time office hours with your instructor to catch up.

Videos

You may find this series of videos on debugging useful.

Class 7

Dates of this class
Wed. 19 Oct. 2016
Thu. 20 Oct. 2016

Material Covered This Week

  • More on Serial communication
  • Wireless serial using Bluetooth

In-Class Activity – More Serial Communication & Wireless Serial using Bluetooth

Assignments for next class

  • Everyone will present their  midterm production assignments in the next class.

Class 8

Dates of this class
Wed. 26 Oct. 2016
Thu. 27 Oct. 2016

Material Covered This Week

  • Midterm presentations

Assignments for next class

Blog – Final project concept

Class 9

Dates of this class
Wed. 2 Nov. 2016
Thu. 3 Nov. 2016

Material Covered This Week

  • Final Project Concept discussion
  • Project planning
  • Bills of materials
  • System diagrams

In-Class Activity – Project Planning

We’ll talk about project planning, construction and issues you might run into when developing larger projects, such as CNC construction, advanced circuit planning and construction, communications issues, and other topics related to development of larger scale projects.

Assignments for next class

Prototype for playtesting. Come up with an initial design for your final project’s user interface and develop a plan to user test your design with users with an interactive sketch.

Blog for next class – Final Project plan, timeline and BOM

Readings for next class

Class 10

Dates of this class
Wed. 9 Nov. 2016
Thu. 10 Nov. 2016

Material Covered This Week

  • Playtesting

In-Class Activity – Playtest your project with your classmates

Assignments for next class

  • Review the material to be covered next week, and  come to next class with questions.
  • Update your system diagram and bill of materials based on what you learn from your playtest. By next week, you should know what devices or components you need, and should have ordered or obtained them.

Class 11

Dates of this class
Wed. 16 Nov. 2016
Thu. 17 Nov. 2016

Material Covered This Week

In-Class Activity – Transistor & Motor Labs

Assignments for next class

  • Review the material to be covered next week, and  come to next class with questions.
  • Continue working on your final project. Update your blog with your detailed system diagram, BOM, and interaction plan.

Thanksgiving Week

There is no class during the week of 23 Nov. – 27 Nov. due to Thanksgiving Break.

Class 12

Dates of this class
Wed. 30 Nov. 2016
Thu. 1 Dec. 2016

Material Covered This Week

In-Class Activity – Synchronous Serial Communication

Assignments for next class

User-testable version of your project!

Blog – Final Project progress report

 

Class 13

Dates of this class
Wed. 7 Dec. 2016
Thu. 8 Dec. 2016

Material Covered This Week

  • User testing
  • Progress report and review

In-Class Activity – User testing

Assignments for next class

  • Finish your final project
  • Make sure your online documentation of the project is done as well
  • Prepare and rehearse how you want to present your project

Class 14

Dates of this class
Wed. 14 Dec. 2016
Thu. 15 Dec. 2016

In-Class Activity – Final Presentations


How to use this site

There’s a lot, lot! of information at itp.nyu.edu/physcomp. Then there’s the whole rest of the internet, starting with Arduino HQ, going on to great sites like learn.adafruit and learn.sparkfun, not to mention infinite how-tos, data sheets for every component ever made, etc… It can get overwhelming. With the ITP site, we’ve tried to do two things:

  1. Provide a week-by-week syllabus for the semester that takes you through the physical computing material in a logical progression. Each week has clear tasks, assignments for the following week, and links to labs, write-ups, and videos that support or explain the current material. Follow along here and you’ll be fine.
  2. Provide an organized set of materials covering the core physical computing topics, to serve as a first resource for any questions you may have as you study the subject. These live under the Topics, Videos, and Labs tabs. These materials are also linked to from the syllabus, but here they’re organized by subject matter, whereas the week-by-week syllabus is chronological.

Class Policies