Break the barriers of interactive design
Evolve life’s interface
How Do I Enroll?

Physical Computing

Explore the evolution of the physical world becoming a computing interface

About Physical Computing

Computing was once an occasion, an event. It happened in a dedicated space for a limited amount of time. Over the last few decades, the barriers between computing devices and their users have slowly dissolved. The physical world is becoming a key interface for computing and the internet of things is becoming the next generation of connectivity.

Students in Physical Computing will explore the technical, experiential, and semantic issues of this evolution. They will address the key components of physical computing; from the fabrication of the interface and the development of the circuitry to the integration of component elements within different contexts. The embedding contexts range from mobile to the build environment and new creative practice instruments. The minor works in tandem with Intelligent Environments allowing students to combine courses across these two concentrations with the assistance of their advisors.

How to Participate

IDeATe's Physical Computing minor and courses are open to students from any major. The minor requires taking a portal course plus four courses from the collaborative and supportive course options. Students should contact the IDeATe advisor to discuss curriculum and to make a loose plan of study. 

Students may also opt to take just one or two courses to fulfill course requirements or to explore an area of interest. Pursuing a minor is not a prerequisite for taking the Physical Computing courses.


The table below outlines the curriculum requirements and course options for Physical Computing. For information on Physical Computing courses being offered this semester, please visit the Courses page.

Minor - Five courses

One Portal Course:

  • For DC, CFA, TSB majors: 16-223 Introduction to Physical Computing
  • For CIT, MCS, SCS majors: 60-223 Introduction to Physical Computing

Four Collaborative or Supportive Courses:

  • 15-294 Rapid Prototyping Technologies
  • 15-394 Intermediate Rapid Prototyping
  • 16-375/54-375 Robotics for Creative Practice
  • 16-455/48-530 Human-Machine Virtuosity
  • 16-456/48-558 Reality Computing
  • 16-457/48-559 Reality Computing II
  • 48-390 Physical Computing Studio
  • 48-528 Responsive Mobile Environments
  • 18-540 Rapid Prototyping of Computer Systems
  • 18-551 Digital Communication and Signal Processing Systems Design
  • 18-578 Mechatronic Design
  • 24-672 Special Topics in DIY Design and Fabrication
  • 39-245 Rapid Prototype Design
  • 48-734 Reactive Spaces and Media Architecture
  • 60-130 Hey Robot, Let's Make Something
  • 60-412 Interactive Art and Computational Design
  • 60-439 Hybrid Instrument Building
  • 62-478 digiTOOL
Note: Students also have the option of taking one Collaborative or Supportive course from one of the other IDeATe areas.

Double-counting: Students may double-count up to two of the IDeATe minor courses for other requirements.


The IDeATe collaborative studios promote hands-on learning through making, critique, and iterative design. Students in these courses apply skills from both technology and arts disciplines to prototype ideas and leverage the diversity of perspectives to produce innovation in their field. Learning happens both through the instructor and through the interdisciplinary peer cohort.

Advanced Topics in Reality Computing: The Adaptive Home

Offered by: Architecture, Robotics Institute

The Adaptive House is the focus of an advanced design studio based around the collaborative development of reality computing applications within a residential prototype. Reality computing encompasses a constellation of technologies focused around capturing reality (laser scanning, photogrammetry), working with spatial data (CAD, physical modeling, simulation), and using data to interact with and influence the physical world (augmented/virtual reality, projector systems, 3d printing, robotics). This studio will use reality computing to understand existing homes, define modes of augmentation,...

Learn More »

Human-Machine Virtuosity

Offered by: Architecture, Robotics Institute

Human dexterous skill embodies a wealth of physical understanding which complements computer-based design and machine fabrication. This project-oriented course explores the duality between hand and machine through the practical development of innovative design and fabrication systems. These systems fluidly combine the expressivity and intuition of physical tools with the scalability and precision of the digital realm. Students will develop novel hybrid design and production workflows combining analog and digital processes to support the design and fabrication of their chosen projects. Specific...

Learn More »

Intermediate Rapid Prototyping

Offered by: Computer Science

This course covers additional topics in rapid prototyping beyond the content of 15-294 Rapid Prototyping Technologies. Example topics include mechanism design, procedural shape generation using Grasshopper, 3D scanning and mesh manipulation, and advanced SolidWorks concepts. The only prerequisite is basic familiarity with SolidWorks, which can be obtained via 15-294 Rapid Prototyping Technologies, from other CMU courses, or from online tutorials.

Spring 2017 instructor: Dave Touretzky

Physical Computing Studio

Offered by: Architecture

This collaborative studio course will allow interdisciplinary teams to develop wearables with a focus on assistive technology. The ubiquitous nature of mobile devices coupled with low-cost and easily integrated sensors and actuators make this a good time to approach real problems for a range of users from the physically disabled to athletes. Teams will learn skills in hardware, software, fabrication, and design communication in order to effectively develop and share their ideas.

Spring 2017 instructor: John Mars

Rapid Prototyping of Computer Systems

Offered by: Electrical and Computer Engineering

This is a project-oriented course which will deal with all four aspects of project development; the application, the artifact, the computer-aided design environment, and the physical prototyping facilities. The class, in conjunction with the instructors, will develop specifications for a mobile computer to assist in inspection and maintenance. The application will be partitioned between human computer interaction, electronics, industrial design, mechanical, and software components. The class will be divided into groups to specify, design, and implement the various subsystems. The goal is to...

Learn More »

Rapid Prototyping Technologies

Offered by: Computer Science

This mini-course introduces students to rapid prototyping technologies with a focus on laser cutting and 3D printing. The course has three components: 1) A survey of rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing technologies, the maker and open source movements, and societal impacts of these technologies; 2) An introduction to the computer science behind these technologies: CAD tools, file formats, slicing algorithms; 3) Hands-on experience with SolidWorks, laser cutting, and 3D printing, culminating in student projects (e.g. artistic creations, functional objects, replicas of famous calculating...

Learn More »

Reality Computing II

Offered by: Architecture, Robotics Institute

Launching Spring 2016. Course description coming soon.

Spring 2016 instructor: Pyry Matikainen

Responsive Mobile Environments

Offered by: Architecture

Embedded, connected and mobile computing combine to create powerful platforms for sensing human behavior and personalizing experiences in situated spaces. Creating intelligent, meaningful, and opportune feedback to provide serendipitous support for the people and activities within these spaces still remains an important problem. Students will seek creative solutions to this challenge in this hands-on introduction to real-time interactive environments. The course will introduce foundational theories, methods and techniques that range across the aesthetic, the human-centered and the technical....

Learn More »

Robotics for Creative Practice

Offered by: Drama, Robotics Institute

This project-oriented course brings art and engineering together into making machines which are surprisingly animate. Students will iterate their concepts through several prototypes focused on using embodied behavior as a creative medium for storytelling, performance, and human interaction. This year we will work with human-scale machines constructed using CNC-cut plywood and pneumatic actuation, culminating in a group performance. Students will learn skills for developing and programming performance behaviors, designing expressive kinetic systems, and rapidly prototyping simple robots. Technical...

Learn More »


In addition to the collaborative studios, the IDeATe network also incorporates a number of existing courses from across the university into its curriculum. These courses have significant applications in the technology-arts realm and serve to enrich the student experience in IDeATe and at Carnegie Mellon.

Rich, in-depth design and application hardware project experience in the areas of digital communications and/or signal processing systems using DSP hardware.
Offered by: Electrical and Computer Engineering
This IDeATe-affiliated course serves as an introduction to the fundamental concepts, processes, and procedures to utilize digital and traditional equipment within the IDeATe@Hunt Library facilities.
Offered by: Art
This seven-week mini has three goals: expose students to the canonic and experimental repertoire and techniques of digital fabrication, familiarize students with the digital fabrication facilities available at Carnegie Mellon, develop proficiency in digital-physical workflow involving a versatile CAD environment (i.e. Rhino3d) and three CNC fabrication machines (laser cutter, CNC router, 3D printer).
Offered by: Art
This is an advanced studio course in arts-engineering and new media practice, with a special emphasis on information visualization and software art.
Offered by: Art
Mechatronics is the synergistic integration of mechanism, electronics, and computer control to achieve a functional system.
Offered by: Electrical and Computer Engineering
This course provides an introduction to rapid design through virtual and physical prototyping.
Offered by: College of Engineering
This class will focus on the design and prototyping of reactive spaces. Over the course of several small projects and one large final project, students will learn where, when and how to embed computationally-driven experiences into the built environment.
Offered by: Architecture
This class offers students hands-on experiences of DIY product design and fabrication processes
Offered by: College of Engineering
This mini will introduce you to research and theory on how to create effective teams.
Offered by: English


A student can choose to enroll in an IDeATe concentration or minor either in their sophomore or in their junior year. These required portal courses introduce students to the concepts and practices of knowledge areas beyond their discipline that contribute to the subject of each minor/concentration.

Arts and Humanities Students
and Engineering Students
Physical computing refers to the design and construction of physical systems that use a mix of software and hardware in order to sense and respond to the surrounding world.


Faculty members from across the university collaborate to develop and instruct courses that are collaborative in nature and support diverse areas of student expertise.

Joshua Bard
School of Architecture
Physical Computing
Susan Finger
Civil & Environmental Engineering
Physical Computing
Ramesh Krishnamurti
School of Architecture
Physical Computing
Jakob Marsico
School of Architecture
Physical Computing
Ali Momeni
School of Art
Physical Computing Sound Design
Anthony Rowe
Electrical & Computer Engineering
Physical Computing
Dave Touretzky
Computer Science Department
Innovation and Entrepreneurship Physical Computing
Garth Zeglin
The Robotics Insitute
Intelligent Environments Physical Computing