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.

Trivia Machine by Team Enid (a final project from spring 2019)

Instructor: Robert Zacharias, (minus the cation)
TA: Harshine Visvanathan, (minus the cation)

Class meetings: Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:30–11:20 a.m., room A10 in Hunt Library (IDeATe’s Physical Computing Lab)

Lab hours

  • RZ: Mondays 4:30–5:30 p.m., and Wednesdays 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
  • or by appointment with RZ; email to request a meeting at another time
  • HV: Fridays 4:00–6:00 p.m.

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 older people 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 older clients.

Topic and assignment schedule

Monday Wednesday
Jan. 13th
Arduino board tour
Homework 1: Intro assigned
Jan. 15th
due: Homework 1
schematics and circuits
Homework 2: Blinky Party assigned
Jan. 20th
no class: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jan. 22nd
due: Homework 2
I = V/R
potentiometers and buttons as inputs
more Serial feedback
Homework 3: Blinking Machine for PitTraCo assigned
Jan. 27th
due: Homework 3
IDeATe walking tour
photoresistor and voltage divider
Homework 4: Nightlights assigned
Jan. 29th
due: Homework 4
servo motor
data types
ultrasonic ranger
Project 1 introduced
Feb. 3rd
due: Project 1 ideation
Feb. 5th
external power
Project 1 work
Feb. 10th
Project 1 work
Feb. 12th
due: Project 1
Feb. 17th
Project 2 introduced
DSLR photography
Fritzing software
Feb. 19th
due (2/21): Project 2 Brainstorming sketches and notes
CAD in Fusion 360
lasercutting at IDeATe
Feb. 24th
non-blocking routines
Project 2 work time
Feb. 26th
due: Project 2 Prototype
Mar. 2nd
Project 2 work day
Mar. 4th
due: Project 2
Mar. 9th
spring break
Mar. 16th
class cancelled

make-up day is April 17th
Mar. 18th
introduction to virtual class
using Tinkercad Circuits
Homework 5 assigned
due: Project 2 documentation (see note on due date flexibility, updated 3/15)
Mar. 23rd
Final project introduced
interview preparation and discussion
final groups announced
Osher partners picked by lottery
Mar. 25th
class dismisses at 10 a.m. to allow time for interviews if needed
due: Homework 5 (flexible deadline)
Mar. 30th
due: Final project ideation sketches
team meetings: post-interview ideation review
Prototype decisionmaking
Apr. 1st
due: Interview documentation
Prototype work day
In-person prototyping assigned over weekend
Apr. 6th
Final project prototype presentation and crit with Osher students
Apr. 8th
debrief prototype session
begin final ideation process
Apr. 13th
due: Final project work plan
due: Prototype documentation
guest speaker gerontologist Laura Poskin, MPSG
Apr. 15th
final work day 1

Friday, Apr. 17th: office-hours-as-class
Apr. 20th
final work day 2
Apr. 22nd
final work day 3
Apr. 27th
Final project critique part 1 with Osher students and invited guests
Apr. 29th
Final project critique part 2 with Osher students and invited guests
Friday May 8th
due: Final project documentation
Monday May 11th
final due date for all oustanding course work