Introduction to Physical Computing

This is a project-based course that deals with all aspects of conceiving, designing and developing projects with physical computing: the application, the artifact, the computer-aided design environment, and the physical prototyping facilities.

Course Number: 16-223

Physical computing refers to the design and construction of physical systems that use a mix of software and hardware to sense and respond to the surrounding world. Such systems blend digital and physical processes into toys and gadgets, kinetic sculpture, functional sensing and assessment tools, mobile instruments, interactive wearables, and more. This is a project-based course that deals with all aspects of conceiving, designing and developing projects with physical computing: the application, the artifact, the computer-aided design environment, and the physical prototyping facilities. The course is organized around a series of practical hands-on exercises which introduce the fundamentals of circuits, embedded programming, sensor signal processing, simple mechanisms, actuation, and time-based behavior. The key objective is gaining an intuitive understanding of how information and energy move between the physical, electronic, and computational domains to create a desired behavior. The exercises provide building blocks for collaborative projects which utilize the essential skills and challenge students to not only consider how to make things, but also for whom we design, and why the making is worthwhile.

This course is an IDeATe Portal Course for entry into either of the IDeATe Intelligent Environments or Physical Computing programs. CFA/DC/TSB students can enroll under 16-223; CIT/MCS/SCS students can enroll in the 60-223 version of the course. Please note that there will be a materials fee associated with this course.

Upon completion of this course the students will be able to:

  • work in a mixed physical-digital environment and laboratory
  • make effective use of standard hardware and software tools for physical computing
  • approach complex physical computing problems with a systematic overview that integrates iterative research and design steps
  • generate systems specifications from a perceived need
  • partition functionality between hardware and software
  • produce interface specifications for a system composed of numerous subsystems
  • use computer-aided development tools for design, fabrication and testing and debugging evaluate the system in the context of an end user application or experience.

Fall 2016 instructor: Garth Zeglin

Fall 2016 course website


Course Type: Portal Course
Offered By: Robotics Institute
Program: Intelligent Environments, Physical Computing

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