Physical Computing

  • Final Project Proposal

  • Day of the dead

    Inspired by the Dead of the dead celebration and the rituals that go along with them, we developed an altar that could 'bring' famous musicians back from the world of the dead. We based the interaction on the belief that if you place your ancestors pictures in the altar, they will be able to visit the living. 

    For this, we chose 6 famous dead musicians to play their music through interacting with the altar. In order for the computer to know which song play, we designed a system based on three lever switches that could be 'clicked' with the musician portrait. 

    We laser cut portraits of each musician with teeth in the bottom so that they could physically pressed 1, 2 or 3 switches when positioned in a slot in the altar. 

    In order to send the resulting combination of the pressed switches, we used serial communication between Arduino and p5.js. The program stored 7 different .mp3 files, one for each musician and one deadly noise when no picture was positioned in the altar. 

    For a final touch we decorated the boxes that hold the switches, computer and Arduino with colorful paper and flowers, so it resembled a Day of the Dead Mexican altar. 


  • RGB Neopixel

    To continue with the exploration of light and its uses with Arduino, I started using Neopixels. With a 4x4 matrix and uploading the Neopixel library to Arduino, I was able to do the same sketch I did last week, but now using a different kind of LED. The potentiometers are now changing the value of the pixel function in the code instead of directly changing the voltage of the pin of a single RGB LED diod. This is the first step to physically control addressable LEDs without the need of pre-loading a code. I would like to continue adding buttons, sliders and potentiometers to control and make different effects for light, such as strobe or figures drawn in the matrix. 

  • RGB Arduino board

    For this week’s assignment I wanted to fulfill my first assignment goal, mix the colors of a RGB LED. The cool thing about this kind of light, is that you can achieve uncountable colors by mixing the two or three of the channels. Using the Arduino and potentiometers, I built the basics for a lighting board that controls a RGB fixture. In order to achieve this I connected three potentiometers to the analog inputs and each channel of the LED to different pins. In the code, I assigned each potentiometer to dim the red, green and blue lights of the LED. With this arrangement, it would be possible to make new colors (different from red, green and blue) by mixing their luminance.

    Even though in theory the connections seem right, some weird things are going on with my prototype at this stage. The red channel will not light to its maximum capacity and the blue light will either turn on or off, without dimming. I did some research about the resistors that this particular LED might need, and it seems that the red diode needs more resistance than the other lights. So I used the resistors that google said, but the problem persists. I hope I can eventually solve this problem.

    #define potPinR A0
    #define potPinG A1
    #define potPinB A2
    #define LEDPinR 3
    #define LEDPinG 5
    #define LEDPinB 7

    void setup() {
    // put your setup code here, to run once:
    pinMode(potPinR, INPUT);
    pinMode(potPinG, INPUT);
    pinMode(potPinB, INPUT);

    void loop() {
    // put your main code here, to run repeatedly:
    int potValueR=analogRead(potPinR);
    int potValueG=analogRead(potPinG);
    int potValueB=analogRead(potPinB);


    int mappedValueR = map(potValueR, 0, 1023, 0, 255);
    int mappedValueG = map(potValueG, 0, 1023, 0, 255);
    int mappedValueB = map(potValueB, 0, 1023, 0, 255);

    analogWrite(LEDPinR, mappedValueR);
    analogWrite(LEDPinG, mappedValueG);
    analogWrite(LEDPinB, mappedValueB);



    (that is 100% Green and Blue light, making Cyan)

  • Stroboscopic Light

    In order to add a 'thinking' element to a lighting switch and enhance the experience of watching a LED blink, I decided to work with a potentiometer to manipulate that blink. A light that turns on and off repeatedly is known as a stroboscopic lamp, because of the strobe effect result. If you find yourself in a completely dark room and a strobe light starts blinking, you will feel that life is suddenly happening at a very low frame rate. Your eyes won't be able to see movement as a continuous due to the lack of light from some seconds in the room. Some artists have used this effect to produce interesting experiences and movie effects but in real life. 

    For this week, I did some research on how the numbers of a physical knob, a potentiometer in this case, could translate into on/off signal for a single white LED. I then added a reflector made out of metallic paper to enhance the light coming out of the LED and come closer to an actual stroboscopic lamp. 

  • Creative switch

    Following my previous experience and interest in lighting design, I decided to use a RGB LED that came with my starter kit. In order to enhance the light effect of the colors and their combinations, I searched for materials in the junk shelf. I found several pieces that would reflect light in different ways. Pieces of mirror and see through acrylic bits where my starting point. I found a triangle based pyramid with a hole in the middle. I immediately tried how a regular LED would project its light through this piece. The results where appealing enough to work with. With the hole drilled in the prism as vertical axis, the prism could rotate and ‘point’ the vertices in three directions. So it fitted my urge to work with a RGB LED, three colors, three vertices.

    After figuring how this LED worked electrically, I begun trying how the rotation of the prism could light each of the colors. With the use of copper tape, I made a line underneath that would close the circuit for each combination. When it was almost done, the interaction with the prism wasn’t really working as smoothly as I imagined. The tips of the LEDs underneath the prism made the rotation uneven.

    After reading Donald Norman’s chapters, I reinforced my idea of making the switch interaction and playfulness of the three colored light, I decided to change the design of the switch. Making the rotation smooth enough and the transition between the colors would’ve needed different kind of materiales that weren’t available at the time. I also thought it would be cool and sturdy to use three push buttons in each of the vertices that would turn on each color and allow to mix them by holding down one entire edge of the prism and even make make white light when pressing right in the middle of it.

    Finally, I used a piece of mirror which I drilled for the LED to serve as the axis to hold the prism. I also cut it in a triangle to follow the final shape of the switch and cover the switches and wires beneath. 

  • Interactivity

    Thoughts on Interactivity

    I’ve always thought that interactive art is the one that is completed by the audience. So Chris Crawford’s definition of interactivity made sense to my previous thoughts. Interaction is a conversation that in order to properly accomplish its purpose, both actors must respond correctly to each others inputs. But, I slightly disagree when he establishes that the interaction between someone and the fridge light doesn't correspond to an interaction. I think that the fridge light has a necessary role for the artifact to complete the experience for a person. And that role was thoughtfully given by the designers or engineers who decided to put that light there. So it may be a long distance and indirect interaction, but a very relevant one. I feel that the light in the fridge is doing more things than just lighting up the contents in the fridge. It is giving feedback of the openness of the fridge, it is an alarm when the fridge is unplugged and food may rot, it gives a special ambience to a dark kitchen, etc. and that I would claim it is interaction.

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