Due: Thu., Feb 25, 10:30AM (week-long exercise)

Heart of the Assignment

You and a partner will create a telematic experience using your Circuit Playground Bluefruit microcontroller and the MQTT Bridge app you have installed on your computer. Additionally, you can use any built-in Bluefruit sensors and emitters as well as any other physical materials (such as fabric) to create your telematic experience.

Bluefruit built-in sensors:

  • Touch Sensor (Capacitance Sensor)
  • Tilt, Tap, or Shake Sensor (Accelerometer)
  • Temperature Sensor
  • Light Sensor
  • Sound Volume Sensor
  • Push Buttons

Bluefruit built-in emitters:

  • Multicolor LEDs (NeoPixels)
  • mini speaker

Longer Explanation of Assignment

This week we will explore using the Bluefruit microcontroller and MQTT telemetry to create a telematic experience with a partner. Previously, we used human action to express a remote presence, but this time the electronic media will radically limit the types of possible expression. The central questions we’ll explore are as follows:

  • Does the experience convey the perception of a remote human consciousness?
  • Does the experience provide awareness of a remote location?
  • Does the experience convey intent to a remote location?

Your experiment might not address every one of these questions, as each emphasizes a somewhat different set of assumptions.


  • Explore telematics through the application of a microcontroller.
  • Explore how digital expression creates meaning in a physical and social context.

Technical Resources: The Medium

The Bluefruit microcontroller natively provides audio and light output. It includes several types of ambient sensing: touch, tilt, shake, sound, and temperature. It also includes pushbuttons, although we’d prefer they not be center of the experience. For this assignment, we’d like you to stick with the onboard sensing and outputs; we’ll work with servomotors later. The touch sensing can be extended by using the clip leads to connect the specific input pads to small pieces of foil or conductive fabric.

The Bluefruit will need to remain connected to a laptop or desktop computer to connect to the MQTT server. The data transmission itself will be a modest telemetry stream, typically limited to around 20 messages per second, each with a few numbers.

Sensing: Social and Physical Context

A central question will be choosing a physical and social context to provide meaning for the limited expressions of the medium. So for example, placing a touch-sensitive pad on your bedroom pillow would give its activation a human meaning based on location and time.

Sometimes this is viewed as a user-interface problem. We are accustomed to deliberate gestures such as pushing a button causing a specific effect; in the specific information context of a switch, a single bit can carry a lot of meaning.

We’d like you to consider more generally how the placement of sensors can respond to both deliberate and unconscious intent. An accelerometer on a refrigerator door, a sound sensor in the bathroom, a touch sensor on a doormat, each of these creates meaning depending on the specific location, time, social ritual, and prior specific knowledge of the individuals in the environment.

Output: Color, Rhythm, and Sound

The same physical and social context will frame the interpretation of the outputs transmitted from the remote location. The LEDs can create color, pattern, and rhythm. They can be used as a display, discreetly placed, illuminate an object, or be diffused through fabric. The sound can create pitch, pattern, and rhythm. It can be subtle, melodic, or annoying.

Approaches and Expectations

This exercise is primarily about thinking through the possibilities of telematic experience within a highly limited medium. The emphasis is on considering the overall context and how it affects the interpretation of a telematic expression.

It should be possible to achieve a result using only the sample code demonstrated during class. That said, we’ll try to form pairs in which at least one person has some programming experience so you have more opportunity to modify the code or write new functionality. We recognize that we aren’t providing detailed programming instruction, so the expectations of technical innovation are kept very open.

We encourage considering an approach centering on ambient awareness rather than a transactional or conversational session. I.e., how could you create a system where you were subliminally aware of another person’s activity in a way that created a sense of community? We recognize that you might not want to keep your laptop plugged into your Bluefruit for a week, but perhaps the scenario could be tested for an interval without the focussed attention of a conversation.