Category Archives: IPC

IPC – Final Project Planning

I’m very interested in the idea of using physical objects to sculpt and shape space in a virtual environment  … and vica versa. For my final project I will be exploring the concept and practicality of using a physical object as the base building block for a digital sculpture.

For this experiment, the base building block will be the voxel; a three dimensional pixel.

A wireless cube will be used to control the orientation and placement of a voxel inside a Processing sketch. When the position is set, the user can “drop” the voxel into place, Tetris style, then add another voxel. This method can be repeated to create a 3D sculpture.

System Diagram04

bill of materials

(1) triple axis accelerometer and gyro breakout - MPU-6050 :: $39.95

(1) soft foam cube :: $10.00

(1) lithium-ion batter (3.7v) :: $5.95

(2) xBee radio modules :: $22.95/each :: $45.90

(2) xBee radio adapters :: $10.00/each :: $20.00

(1) a small microcontroller :: Adafruit Trinket or Adafruit Gemma :: $7.95

Approximate Total Cost :: $130.00

Project Timeline

Week of 11/17

  • Order materials – allow 3-5 days for delivery
  • Prototype the hardwired circuit with borrowed materials
  • Begin development of processing environment for 3D objects
  • Mockup sizes for voxel with blue foam

Week of 11/24

  • Materials arrive
  • Continue development of processing 3D environment
  • Begin user testing
  • Refine design of enclosure

Week of 12/1 through 12/5

  • Final enclosure completion
  • Final assembly of physical interface circuitry
  • Completion of sculpting environment via Processing

IPC – HBridge Lab

An H-Bridge controls the direction of voltage through a portion of a circuit by providing two different directional paths through which the current can flow. This is helpful for controlling the direction that a DC motor rotates, among other things. In this lab, a push button was used to send a digital signal to an Arduino which then sent a signal to the H-bridge telling it which path to open or close. When the button is pressed, the H-Bridge flips orientation, and switches the direction of current flowing through the motor. Good times!


P.Comp — Thoughts on a Final Project

I’m very interested in the idea of using physical objects to sculpt and shape space in a virtual environment … and vica versa. For my final project I would like to explore the idea of using a physical object the base building block for a digital sculpture.

The base building block will be the voxel … a three dimensional pixel. Using a gyroscope, an LED array, a potentiometer, and a simple button I will attempt to control placement and voxel color in processing based on physical manipulation of an acrylic cube. Hopefully this little storyboard helps elucidate the idea.

photo (1)


This is how I think it could work.
1. The gyroscope or accelerometer orients the voxel in space both physically and on the screen.
2. A potentiometer controls the hue of light that is emitted from cube’s internal LED array.
3. When the user is ready to set the position of the voxel on screen, they press the button which fixes the voxel’s position and moves onto the next one.

This interaction would serve as the first part in a series of other explorations with the aim of generating interactive clay.

Reflections on Tangible Interfaces

Has learning to build tangible interfaces changed your view of what constitutes good physical
interaction,  or has it strengthened your initial ideas?

As we pass the half-way point of the semester, I suppose it is a good time to look back on what I’ve personally accomplished and share some thoughts on physical interaction

Building tangible interfaces hasn’t necessarily changed my view on what constitutes a good physical interaction, it has fortified it. I’m still on board with Chris Crawford; any exchange of energy/information between two subjects can be technically qualified as an interaction, however just because the exchange is taking place doesn’t mean it’s of a high quality. Listening, thinking, and speaking (receive, process, respond) are all essentials parts of the communication, according to Crawford, all three of them have to be working for quality interaction to occur.  

Working with tangible interfaces has reinforced this attitude, but more than anything it has opened up new avenues for expression and introspection, design, delight, and play. Systems (some) and mechanics that once seemed obscure are now accessible and hackable.  

In terms of creative exploration and introspection, pathways have been opened up through new means of sensing the world and forming expressive responses to it. Tangible interfaces engage more than just the eyes or the hands,  using tangible interactions to engage all of the senses can give extra dimensionality and added dimensionality to art while enabling the artist mix additional media into their work. Eventually I would like to explore the use of wireless communication to enable a device such as a aerial drone to experiment with photographic compositions and sound. 

Additionally the potentials for tangible interfaces are great in the design world. In architecture and planning, paper (or more recently the screen) has been the frame through which designers simulate their solutions. The introduction of object based play into the design process could not only lend itself to non-linearity through a parametric physical-digital relationship, but also to the inherent spatial issues involved in architectural design.

I can also imagine the expansion of tangible interfaces having an exciting impact on sculptural issues in art and design. For instance, something like interactive sculpting clay that allows broad and minute modifications to digital and physical geometry. This type of input//output object could tie into the internet to enable collaborative sculpting.

Maybe there’s an idea for a final project in here somewhere …

IPC – some notes on drinking fountains

Drinking Fountain

The Drinking Fountain Diaries | David Tracy

Chapter I
It’s a hot summer day, the sun is baking my brains, and my water bottle is empty. As I wander through the park, I keep my eyes peeled for a water source; one of those vendors with a cart, a kiosk, , nothing. I continue to walk, and the longer I walk, the more my thirst takes over. Things are getting desperate; I need water, and at this point, even a pond will do! Suddenly, in the distance, something catches my eye. An iron bollard topped by a concave dish presents itself to me as a divine gift. Frantically, I search for some way to activate the fountain. I spot a circular button underneath the dish. I press it and a spurt of water emerges from the spigot followed by a barely existent stream of water. The water pressure is so weak that I might have to put my mouth on the spigot … screw it.

Chapter II
It’s a Wednesday morning at the office and I’m recovering from a late night out with friends. Cottonmouthed, muscles aching, head throbbing, holding back nausea, I make my way to the drinking fountain seeking liquid salvation. I arrive at my destination lightly press the the gray bar mounted to the front of the fountain. Magically, the fountain’s internal chiller activates, and an eruption of ice cold water delivers me from evil. My life is saved.

The End

Drinking fountains are perhaps one of the oldest pieces of interactive technology in use and have taken on many forms throughout their long history. Though Crawford wouldn’t consider these devices to be highly interactive, or interactive at all, they’re important to us. As illustrated in my memoir above, their public presence accommodates a public need for fresh and free drinking water, in my case for very thirsty people on very hot days and for people with hangovers. In fact, in the United States, drinking fountains are required in all public places. (This could be taken to mean that water is a universal right, though in many places, this doesn’t seem to be the case.)

Through their various physical incarnations, their primary function has always stayed the same.  This is how a drinking fountain works: I’m thirsty, I see a drinking fountain, I push a button, water appears, and I drink it. The fountain responds to my action. Pretty simple right? Below are some of my observations on drinking fountains and suggestions for how water fountains could be better.

the ancient outdoor drinking fountain

As I sit eating on a slice of pizza on a park bench in Washington Square Park, I casually monitor the water fountain across from me. The body of the fountain is a nice looking toned down piece of throw back art nouveau cast iron topped by a bronze bowl, spigot and drain. The button to open the spigot is concealed beneath the bowl of the fountain. It’s a simple button that requires just a couple pounds of pressure to activate.

Five minutes, no use. This is pretty good pizza, I would call it deep dish, but I think I heard it called Sicilian, exotic. Ten minutes, a sip from a passerby. I’m stuffed. Twenty minutes, several gulps by man on crutches, he first fumbles to find the push button to open the spigot, then struggles to lean over to reach the spigot. I get up to toss my paper plate and napkin in the trash receptacle. Thirty minutes, a water bottle is refilled, a nice consistent water pressure makes this easy. I could use a sip, but I’ll stay put for now. Forty-five minutes, someone uses the fountain to wash the their lunch remains from their hands. What a concept! I follow suit. All in, the interactions range from five to thirty seconds.

The fountain’s simple function lends it alternate uses besides drinking; drinking bottle refill, hand washing, face washing, spitting, bird bathing, bacteria breeding, disease transmission. Whatever novel form it takes, the drinking fountain is stuck as a universal device to accommodate the general population.

After I rinse my hands, I lean over to take a sip from the ancient cast iron apparatus. Not very cold, but good to cleanse my palette of the Sicilian slice I just devoured. As I drink, leaned over, I feel the contents of my stomach turn, then the sudden urge to vomit. I quickly stand upright. I’m too tall for this drinking fountain! Discrimination! Design crime! Call the police!

Of course, the mounting height of the spigot and the fountains dish is mounted at the best height for the most people. As much as I would love a drinking fountain spigot mounted at 5′-9″ this would exclude most of the population from interacting with such a device. Not to mention those disabled and bound to a wheelchair. This may be the lowest common design denominator for spigot mounting height; a low water-fountain will accommodate the wheelchair bound as well as the able bodied, though it might occasionally induce the urge to vomit. Aside form that, the mounting height of the spigot presents problems for people who are able bodied but may have limited mobility, like that man on crutches. He would be well served by a fountain with a higher spigot. Maybe the spigot wouldn’t have to move but the water pressure could be regulated to provide a higher stream of water. The shape of the basin would have to adjust to accommodate the variable heights in turn.

The same man fumbled to find the button to activate the spigot. He figured it out only a few seconds. Should he have been able to immediately figure out the button’s location? Is it ok that he needed a few seconds? Is this bad design? In the case of the drinking fountain, it’s hard to say, these public devices are elements of life that we familiarize ourselves with from an early age. With this in mind, most of us have a frame of reference for how a fountain works and should be able to find the button after a few short seconds. The button’s location is clearly an aesthetic decision by the design, who determined that a little functional ambiguity was worth the concealed appearance. The fountain’s appearance allows it to fit into the aesthetic context and serve as a functional piece of sculpture.

The woman who refilled her water bottle was able to do so because the fountain’s water pressure was strong and consistent. While this has little to do with the fountain’s design, it illuminates a larger piece of infrastructure, public water. The public water system is a complicated beast, which might be considered extremely interactive. Water is drawn from lakes and reservoirs and expelled into an amazing wastewater treatment system. The fountain is but a node in this system. The disappointment and despair of low water pressure on a hot summer day …

Water fountains are great things and they’re disgusting things. People spit in them, rinse food down them, birds shit in them, and all that crap partially sits in the drain, and festers in a dry drain on a hot day. Not to mention the microbes that can grow in and around the spigot. The activator button or push panel is touched by thousands of people with varying levels of filth on their hands. Perhaps this is all ok, we don’t necessarily touch any of that gunk in the basin or put our mouths on the spigot, but we do have to trust that our municipal water is clean and chemical and disease free. Perhaps the most problematic part of the water fountain is the actuator (button or push panel). Maybe if there was a small infrared sensor on body of the fountain that activated the spigot, contamination would be eliminated. This sensor would require a low voltage connection, perhaps powered by a small solar cell … or a gigantic wind turbine.


design meets disability

Over the past several years, a fashion phenomenon has swept over the NBA’s top talent. Russell Westbrook, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Lebron James, and many others have begun to show up to post-game conferences wearing empty frames. The glassless glasses signify that an enabling aide like glasses has completely shifted from functional appliance to aesthetic fashion accessory, a striking contrast to the stigma of glasses of the last century. Perhaps the mass appeal of frames on super star athletes is that they project an (oftentimes false) image of disability on the athlete, humanizing them and allowing consumers and fans to connect to their brand.

Glasses are perhaps the easiest example of design for disability to comment upon, since visual impairment is so prevalent. In Design Meets Disability, Graham Pullin makes a case for nurturing the natural tensions within design culture between pragmatists and artists. Though Pullin focuses on design of objects for the disabled, his argument is easily expanded to all design disciplines; good design comes from a process in which constraints are simultaneously taken seriously and playfully challenged.

Traditionally, design for disability has focused on enabling ability while attracting as little attention as possible. However, the term disability can be qualified on many levels based on the general presence of the disability itself. For example, visual impairment as a disability affects an enormous percentage of the population and for this very reason, it is almost not even considered a disability anymore. A disability such as amputation however, is far less common and has a larger potential to alienate its subject thus presenting a more difficult challenge of projecting a positive image without invisibility. Regardless of the type of disability, Pullin demonstrates through the examples of eye wear, hear-wear, and prosthetics, populations of people with disabilities can be every bit as diverse as society in general. This diversity carries with it the added dimension of taste, which requires a range of styles.

Perhaps we are approaching a point where we can overcome the technical limitations of industrial manufacture to accommodate taste at a new level. Custom circuitry and on-demand 3D printing could enable disability designers to create design systems instead of products in which the end-user has control of the outcome. A rough example of this type of system is Nervous System‘s custom jewelry interfaces, cell-cycle and radiolaria. These systems allow the end-user to modify the object within a system of parameters and constraints to make a piece of jewelry that suits their individual taste while upholding principles of good design. In this scenario, the role of the designer actually remains unchanged since the same rigor of respecting and exploring the constraints is still present in the system. What’s different is the mode of manufacture.