Carnegie Mellon University


Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology

Physical Computing

Physical computing is driven by a creative combination of arts and engineering disciplines. Our students’ projects interact with their surroundings, remember information, make decisions, and generate tangible outputs like movement, sound, or light. Physical computing projects range from the tiny and plain (a blinking light on a breadboard) to the extravagant (a simulation of an alien landscape), and everything in between. They may be functional, like an assistive device for a person with disability, playful, like an interactive marble run, or exploratory, like a prototype for a future human-computer interface in a world of sentient machines.

Students gain a broad range of skills in our courses because physical computing as a field is fundamentally interdisciplinary: our projects combine software, electronics, and physical fabrication. Students in the Physical Computing minor learn how to:

  • Write low-level software to computationally define a project’s behavior, usually using C or Python
  • Fabricate projects using techniques borrowed from various crafts and disciplines, such as making simple assemblies with paper and tape; woodworking for larger or more robust projects; textile/fabric integrations; and creating powered mechanical linkages using motors/gears/belts/bearings/etc.
  • Design, test, assemble, and debug electronic circuits to bring a project to life
  • Use 3-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) for visualization, simulation, and fabrication of all of the above
  • Combine digital fabrication techniques (3D printing, laser cutting, etc.) with hand craft to iterate towards creating a final, polished product

Physical Computing Minor - Minimum of 45 Units

One Computing Course - Minimum of 9 Units

  • 15-104 Introduction to Computing for Creative Practice
  • 15-110 Principles of Computing
  • 15-112 Fundamentals of Programming and Computer Science
  • 60-212 Intermediate Studio: Creative Coding

One IDeATe Portal Course - Minimum of 9 Units

  • Recommended Portal Course for this area: 16-223 IDeATe Portal: Creative Kinetic Systems
  • Recommended Portal Course for this area: 60-223 IDeATe Introduction to Physical Computing
  • 18-090 Twisted Signals: Multimedia Processing for the Arts
  • 53-322 IDeATe: Little Games/Big Stories: Indie Roleplaying Game Studio
  • 60-125 IDeATe: Introduction to 3D Animation Pipeline
  • 62-150 IDeATe Portal: Introduction to Media Synthesis and Analysis
    • Section A: Introduction to Media Synthesis and Analysis
    • Section B: Mediascapes
  • 82-250 Digital Realities: Introducing Immersive Technologies for Arts and Culture
  • 99-361 IDeATe Portal
    • Section A: Inflatables
    • Section B: Intelligent Environments
    • Section D: Learning About Learning

IDeATe Physical Computing Courses - Minimum of 27 Units

  • 05-333 Gadgets, Sensors, and Activity Recognition in HCI
  • 05-540/18-540 Rapid Prototyping of Computer Systems
  • 15-294 Rapid Prototyping Technologies
  • 15-394 Intermediate Rapid Prototyping
  • 16-375/54-375 Robotics for Creative Practice
  • 16-376 IDeATe: Kinetic Fabrics
  • 16-480 IDeATe: Creative Soft Robotics
  • 18-578 Mechatronic Design
  • 24-672 Special Topics in DIY Design and Fabrication
  • 39-245 Rapid Prototype Design
  • 48-339 IDeATe: Making Things Interactive
  • 48-528 Responsive Mobile Environments
  • 48-734 Possibilistic Design
  • 49-313 Designing for the Internet of Things
  • 62-362 IDeATe: Electronic Logics && Creative Practice
  • 62-478 digiTOOL
  • Additional courses as available. Please check IDeATe Courses for the options for the current and upcoming semester.
Double-counting:  Students may double-count up to two of their IDeATe minor courses for other requirements.

Physical Computing Faculty

The Physical Computing faculty represent Carnegie Mellon's expertise in Architecture, Art, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, and Robotics. They carefully oversee the collaboration of students while delivering the IDeATe Physical Computing courses. Learn more about participating faculty here.