Physical Computing

Essentially Physical Computing is the building of interactive physical systems such as Tangible User Interfaces, Interactive Products, or Active Forms. Physical Computing (P/C) is a beidge connecting the world of computers with the world that surrounds us. An important aspect of P/C is the heavy reliance on demonstration protoype as proof of concept and principle.

An important part of P/C is transduction, the conversion of one form of energy into another, specifically physical energy into electrical energy that can be processed by your system. So one of the key element of a P/C system is a set of transducers that will convert physical energy into electrical signal that your P/C can process (Input signal), you may also need transducers to convert electrical energy into physical signal (Output signal).

Remember that a P/C is an electronic system: an electrical system that convey and/or process information via a signal.

Material for Students

One of your main resource is the Arduino boards familly that is the entry point of physical computing. Another useful source is the online encyclopedia: All About Circuits, that include almost everything there is to know about electronics.

Remember that with P/C what matters most is rapid prototyping of your ideas, so you can run tests and make adjustments to your design very quickly!

Designing a Physical Computing System

The design process should include some or all of the following steps-

  1. Problem Statement - What you want your system to achieve
  2. System Specifications - Detailed description of Inputs & Outputs as well as operating principles
  3. Initial Design Approach - First general outline of system
  4. Development of Block Diagram - High-level circuit design, including Power Source, Processing Unit, Inputs and Outputs
  5. Design of each Block - Detailed circuit design of each block of the system
  6. Performance Simulation - Calculation or simulation of system behaviour
  7. Prototype Construction - Using either Breadbord or Stripe board
  8. Writting & Debugging the Microcontroller programme - Starting with simple code and building up the entire programme for your system
  9. Prototype Testing - Testing with Oscilloscope and Multimeter each block, adding components and subsystems one at a time
  10. Final Design & Construction - Recontruction of the system using Stripe Board and neat layout
  11. Working System - Robust and reliable system