Introduction to Physical Computing (60-223) is a 10-credit semester project-based course offered at Carnegie Mellon University by the School of Art under the auspices of IDeATe.

Art Enabler by Team Amy (a final project from fall 2020)

Professor: Robert Zacharias, (subtract the cation)

TA: Catherine Yu, (subtract the cation)

Class meetings

  • Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:05–10:55 a.m., room A10 in Hunt Library (IDeATe’s Physical Computing Lab)

Lab hours

  • RZ: 11 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • CY: noon to 1 p.m., Fridays
  • liberally available outside of these times (please email for an appointment)

Course synopsis

The first half of this practical project-based course is spent covering the basic technical skills (including electronics, programming, and hardware) needed to build simple interactive objects with embedded behavior using the Arduino microcontroller. Inputs to read information about the world include sensors such as an ultrasonic ranger, thermometer, light sensor, and human inputs like buttons and knobs. Outputs to affect the world include actuators such as motors, LED lights, speakers, and haptic feedback devices. Individual and group projects challenge students to apply their technical skills in creative ways. The class will be working with a local group of people living with disabilities who serve as design clients for the final project; students conjure and build functioning assistive devices of a practical or whimsical nature for their critique and feedback. Readings and guest speakers address topics pertaining to design for people with different abilities.


  • The PDF version of the syllabus is available here
  • The webpage version is available here

Topic and assignment schedule

Tuesday Thursday
Aug. 31st
IDeATe walking tour
Homework 1: Intro assigned
Sept. 2nd
due: Homework 1
syllabus quiz
Diary of Sorrows
many kit parts handed out
Homework 2: Asynchronous learning assigned
Sept. 7th
due: Homework 2 for schematics
additional kit parts handed out
Homework 3: Completing asynch learning assigned
Sept. 9th
due: Homework 3
technical Q&A
Project 1: A Double Transducer introduced
Sept. 14th
due: Project 1 ideation
discussions of above with course staff
Sept. 16th
Project 1 work day with Catherine (Zach is out)
Sept. 21st
Project 1 work
Sept. 23rd
Project 1 work
Sept. 28th
due: Project 1
Sept. 30th
Project 2: Assistive Device introduced
Project 2: Brainstorming assigned
Oct. 5th
due: Project 1 documentation
due: Project 2 Brainstorming
Oct. 7th
Project 2 prototype work day
Oct. 12th
due: Project 2: Prototype
Oct. 14th
no class: mid-semester break
Oct. 19th
due: Homework 4
Guest speaker: Emily Eckel
Fusion360 and lasercutting tutorial
Oct. 21st
Project 2 work day
Oct. 26th
Project 2 Final Critique
Oct. 28th
Final project initial meetings
Nov. 2nd
no class: time given for final project interviews
due: Project 2 documentation
Nov. 4th
Final project interview debriefing and ideation discussions
Nov. 9th
Final project prototype work day
Nov. 11th
Final project prototype work day
Nov. 16th
Final project prototype work day
Nov. 18th
Final project: Prototype Critique
Nov. 23rd
Final project work session
Nov. 25th
no class: Thanksgiving break
Nov. 30th
Final project work session
Dec. 2nd
Final project: Final critique