Basic Physical Computing

An Intro

Physical computing deals with how people communicate with technology physically, may it be a button that you press or a gesture you make with the camera, all of it falls under this realm. In this course we were introduced to building physical interfaces using Arduino and were given the flexibility to experiment with a whole bunch of sensors and actuators. The objective being for everyone to get familiarised with the Arduino platform and having microcontrollers as one of our tools in our toolkit for designers.

Ubi de Feo and Ankkit Modi

Our Teachers

Ubi de Feo and Ankkit Modi were our guides for this week and handled all of the technical queries that the class had. Ubi is one of our favorite teachers from CIID, he has a rich experience in working with Arduino and is a hardcore gameboy fan. He has supervised and/or developed projects for Nike, Nokia, GoreTEX, Heineken, Bottega Veneta, Mandarina Duck, Electronic Arts, MTV and many more. He currently teaches programming, electronics and other things to whomever wants to learn, often developing his own methods to explain really complicated things in a more tangible, down-to-earth fashion. And above everything else, Ubi is an amazing baker!

Ankkit was our technologist in residence at CIID and was our go to guy for anything that is related to technology and equipment, he is around to support us all the time. He has a background in entrepreneurship and worked on many interesting projects in the space of physical computing. He also has a lot of tips around cryptocurrenicies in his back pocket.

Massimo Banzi

Moreover, Massimo Banzi was also present during the first day of the class to introduce the course and personally hand out the Arduino starter kits to us. Massimo might not need any introduction as he is one of the founders of Arduino and has been the Associate Professor at the Interaction Design Institue Ivrea (IDII).


The objective for this week was quite simple, it was to get ourselves familiarised with microcontroller based development environments through hands on experimentation with a bunch of sensors and actuators. One of the most exciting parts of the week was when Massimo handed out really cool Arduino starter kits to each of us. And everyone started tinkering around with the projects that was documented in the starter kit. Moreover, our deliverable for the week was to build an Arduino based system that has one or more sensors as inputs and one or more actuators like motors as output. Some of the things I was able to tinker around with this week were:

  1. Audio sensors to detect wind and vibrations.
  2. Humidity sensors to detect breath.
  3. Piezo elements and tilt sensors.
  4. IRF540 MOSFET and DC fans.
  5. IR based RADARs.

This class was really powerful as it helped many of my classmates who were new to electronics to build amazing projects in a very short period of time. A true example of accelerated learning through hands-on building.


The Defender: Bora Kim, Rachel Lane, Arvind Sanjeev

“The Defender” is a wearable suit designed to defend personal space. The project was inspired from thinking about personal spaces, where do you draw the boundary for your personal space, is this something cultural or ethnographic? This article from the Washington Post talks about how people from different places around the globe have different perceptions about their personal space. For instance, people from Romania have a greater personal boundary set for their personal space at around 4.6 feet while it's almost the half for people from Argentina at around 2.5 feet.

Talking about how Defender works: when the radar (infra-red distance sensor attached to a servo motor) on the goggles detects someone is getting too close (within a given radius), it triggers LEDs and fans that are strapped to both sides of the body. The front fans inflate an airbag, constructed from a laser-cut plastic bag which fills the personal space of the wearer and deters off anyone within that perimeter. The bag is fabricated with lots of tiny holes which project the LED light, illuminating the person who is invading the space. The rear fans blow strips of foil away from the body, inspired thorigh bio-mimicry, it gives the appearance of tentacles and amplifies a physical response to the interaction. The fans return to their original state when the personal space is cleared. At the back of the suit, we built a case containing an Arduino Uno, connected to the infrared sensor and the four fans.


Some more experimental projects from the class:

Uncanny Senses: James Zhou, Jens Obel, Sebastian Hunkeler


Robot-Buddies: Christopher Bogar, Isak Frosta


Ernie & Bernie: Stephanie Lee, Somayeh Ranjbar


Clean it: Clara Subirats, Ine-Charlotte, Matt Visco, Vytautas Gudaitis, Anoushka Garg

More projects from this class can be seen here: Basic Physical Computing.

This is just a short intro to my life at CIID, I will be publishing more posts on the different topics we learn as well as the projects we do through this blog. Furthermore, all the credits to the media content for this blog goes to the IDP class of 2017.

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