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June 26, 2006

Sketching 06 notes

Sketching in Hardware 06 - "a summit on the design of/with physical computing toolkits" - has just finished.

SIH1 is a conversation about developing and using tools for prototyping intelligent devices, a weekend-long participatory sequel to the talk Matt Cottam and Mike Kuniavsky presented at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology conference this year ...With this gathering we aim to bring together a small group of people developing technology, designing products and experiences, or teaching industrial and interaction design with physical computing. The goal is to spend a weekend in a highly creative environment and discuss the ideas, methods, challenges and potential of toolkits designed for prototyping physical computing. It will be an opportunity for toolkit developers to talk to designers and educators who use their tools, for educators to meet with other educators and developers, and for designers to meet with the folks who make the hardware they use.

I helped Mike do some of the last-minute set up, so I feel a just a little bit more like an organizer than an attendee.

My notes on the talks follow in the extended entry. As always, my own responses are in brackets. I'll probably post more completed thoughts soon.

Scott Klemmer
How the history of UI tools research might inform future ubicomp toolkits work
Plumbing as a subject of research

screw as example tool
- standardization

toward design thinking
- improved tools allow a wider audience access to computation
- faster - less time spent on implementation
- from technology experts to domain experts

- libraries: elements
- architectures: relationships in a larger system


big, red EASY button
demonstrations (ie, bayesian spam filter)

Ranjit Bhatnagar
students in art school need CHEAP
cheapness of tools affects price of art
- selling to a wider audience
- making multiples
cheapness is elegant
cheapness enables MASS production
looking for the processing / pure data of microcontrollers
Jim Budd
Simon Fraser University
Observations from Experience: Challenges in Developing Currriculum to Support Interactive Product Design

creating a curriculum
- multimedia programming
- encoding media practice
- design for digital environments
- sketching and drawing
- prototyping and human factors
- interactive prototypes
- studio courses

modular building blocks

measuring sticks
- are the projects successful
- are we achieving the level of resolution that we wants?
- are we achieving the level of integration that we want?

- more content
- more resource materials for prototyping
- materials for teaching/learning
- work space


Michal Migurski
Stamen Design

in collaboration with Scott Snibby
Root Markets - attentron
visualizing attention and making it fungible

looking for "hands-offedness"
standards for amateurs w/o the EECS background
cheapness in terms of approachability

Les Nelson

people-first design
informal information sharing
matchmaking the technology
challenges: how to augment people's sharing activities
- where to put resources?
- what are the 'costs' to users?

[flexibility vs rigidity of work practices]
[flexibility vs rigidity of technology affordances]

- tangible direction finding in complex environments
- spending a lot of design time on the surface

Plasma Poster
- not just private interfaces - public interfaces, too

- tangible object manipulation to control order slides
- tangibly simple on the front end, but dealing with very complex architectures and infrastructures was hard on the back end

PaperButtons...and a speculation
- is the barcode (for the palette) necessary?
- putting buttons on paper
- well, it's not flat enough

-> loose coupling of inputs and outputs and computation


Oskar Fjellström
Expanding the window of cross-disciplinary collaboration (a case study)

industrial design
interaction design
design research

prototyping toolkits in education and research
Umea has art students - not focused on technology troubleshooting

CUPL project - design for cultural pluralism
- mother language teaching for first or second generation immigrants
- focus on participatory design (Brendan Clark - anthropologist - PhD on participatory design issues and industrial design process)
-- using toolkits for participatory design support
-- two-three workshop sessions each week, making changes to model/prototype between sessions
-- separated modules made for an easier conceptual learning experience for people involved than one big integrated board
- ideation support
-- making ideas tangible
-- if you let industrial designers roam too freely, they can come up with ideas that are too hard to implement
-- tying ideas back to reality - "keeping them on the right track"

Q: Matt Cottam: common questions from students?
A: varied

Q: any prerequisites?
A: no -

Jim - we have 800 students across 4 streams - how do you provide assistance. Fidgets is friendly for computer scientists, not for design students. Documentation and support is a big issue.

Matt - the person with the expertise ends up spending more time than they want helping out

Bjorn - start student-led courses and provide incentives for them to do it
Q: Nathan - where are the holes in the curriculum?
A: Programming (for one student) was the biggest hurdle. Simpler for me for do the programming myself than teach just one person. It'd be different if there was a class.


Michael Rodemer
Approaching Interactivity for Artists, Musicians, and Designers

students: "one hand on the panic button, one foot out the door"
- so, ensure success experiences right away
- giving students something they know they can use immediately
- instant first results - ie, within first hour
- feel the power - see what else they can do
- ideate, circumscribe, realize

supporting the beginnings
- clear definition of hardware functions
- English-like, straightforward programming
- define a working realm of sensors, actuators, outputs (don't use the word "programming!")
- hide the complexity for now

workshops with Microchip PIC 12f683
workshops with laptop/desktop interface and board

EZI/O - lots of input/output - specialized pins
uses any sw environment that can talk ASCII


Q: Bjorn - what about experience on sw side? how does that affect success?
A: streamlined interface is a good thing - Director has been ruined by loading up with features

Q: Matt - why not mask unnecessary detail and risk with a plastic case?
A: They thought about it, but the case cost too much. Instead have extra-thick substrate to protect from screwdrivers and other dangers

Tom Igoe

Physical Computing: What We've Learned So Far @ ITP

background in theater
we don't get to tell users what to think - we only get to show them what to do and hope they understand

physical computing: methods for facilitating a greater range of human physical expression using computers
- not a robotics
- "when you teach people to build robots, they build robots"
- spend more time with human beings

teaching physical computing for 13 years

example projects
- ie, Foosball (Dennis Crowley)

assistive technology
- through the looking glass (Gabriela Richard, Vanessa Khan, Tom Aislie)
-- found that therapists want to build technology themselves
- Ramps (John Schimmel, Tristan Perich, Wlodek Koss)

standalone objects
- SmartHug (Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Vaishali Khandare)
- VOCquet (Jennifer Kirchherr)
-- CO sensor - flower closes
- Therapy incentives through play(Stephen Kerrigan, Mike Bulkhin)

wireless/networked objects
- Needies (Brett Shulz, Daniel Perlin, Amos Bloomberg)
- 2 Fast 4 Tracks (Chris Hall)
-- don't underestimate non-technical people
-- tested with 10-year-olds - who ended up doing some complex programming

a few microcontroller modules
- Basic Stamp
- BX-24 (still in computer, rather than computing)
- PIC 18f252 (but the price went dramatically up after students left ITP and didn't have access to the programmer)
- Arduino - cheaper than BX-24, easier than PIC
- Phidgets
-- love that there's no need to program hardware
-- standalone?
- Make controller
-- vs Arduino: Vespa vs Humvee
-- and then you have to buy Rowley Crossworks
- Parallax Propeller
-- expensive board
-- IDEA is hard
- SparkFun
-- the future
-- hard to find sensor and actuator kits

rules: hardware is hard
- keep cost low
- especially for multiple controllers
- in intro stages, fewer components, the better
- abstract the housekeeping, focus on the interface
- minor issues are major for beginners (ie, power and ground, the regulator, the clock)

software must be soft (because hardware is hard)
- simple interface
- simple language
- big function/feature list isn't so important
- minor language elements are major stumbling blocks
- abstract the housekeeping, focus on the interface

design ideas
- reduce visual clutter
- likes that Arduino, Processing use the same IDE - so people know what to do
- likes cross-platform similarity
- C without pointers -- which is much easier to teach
- millis()!!!!!!! helps get people past multithreading

...and the junk shelf: moving towards sustainability in practice and education

working on Networked Objects book

Tod Kurt
USB: cheap and driver-less USB for smart objects

USB is cool, but most objects don't use it in a smart way
- pervasive
- standard object classes
- wireless USB is coming

USB is kind of crap
- complex, compared to serial
- requires device-specific drivers (always a gotcha in the connect btw serial and OS)
-- "a big buzzkill" - especially if you ask other people to play with your gizmo

making devices that only incidentally have a USB

a new approach
- put the USB in the device, not the computer

HID: Human Interface Device
- catchall for standardize USB capabilities
- generalized periodic reporting of arbitrary data
- but there's lots of jargon

hack HID: embrace and subvert
- use rails approach: solve common case simply
- re-usable snippets

USB microcontrollers
- PIC 18f4550
-- benefit: lots of USB in the hardware
-- downside: you have to use their compiler
-- CREATE USB Interface - Dan Overholt at USB
- Atmel AVR w AVR-USB
-- benefit: really cheap
-- open source
-- you can get it from SparkFun

Tod's goals
- avoid USB-to-serial and instead use HID
- create tools for easy HID development


Q: Tom - lazyweb - device driver profile as a disk drive so drag-n-drop programming
A: maybe manage with a button on the USB


Nathan Seidle

LED backpack
"the last millimeter"
last year: huge boom in cross pollination
talked to some kids who were playing with mindstorms in eighth grade, microcontrollers in high school
education give people something they want to do
worry less about hardware - more about applications
Malcolm McCullough
U Michigan

John Thackara
compare to automotive industry - did they stop to think about pollution?
from mobility to access, by way of physical computing
all space and no place
mexico city
first year when majority of individuals live in cities
picture of japanese subway traveller with phone
detroit does not know: non-vehicle navigation also matters
microcoordination in Tokyo
Robin Chase: zipcar
make access to a vehicle as fast and easy as getting cash out of an ATM
Peak Oil - has been told that it is a "belief"
RFIDs for 4¢
and what does one have to do with another?
activity - influence - context
quotes Tom: "broadening the range of human physical expression"
can delight available in cars be available in other ways
is in driving or is it in moving around or in owning a complex thing
Design Engaged: notion of the derive
service ecologies
and incredible diversity of cultural experience
urbanist: seeing trends toward density and participation - counter to 20th century trends pushed by the Ford Motor Company
universal to situated
how museums are important in public education - and the importance of public education
how can public education wrest public discourse away from television
challenging "anytime, anyplace"
people actually want specific communication
ambient (ex, Teri Rueb's Drift)
henry ford museum - relationship with a continent - pastoral ideals
bob fishman - ideas still at heart driving suburbia
technology enables perception of latent qualities in environment, of space and place
machine in the garden
what does mobile technology open up? close down?
look at Ford's Rouge: means (impressive) vs ends (dull)
the premise of work is as important as how you pull it off
30 minutes, 8 in congestion OR 60 minutes, all in motion?
some prefer mobility, some prefer access
Ford has been in the mobility business, but as the megacities are configured, it has the ability to get into access
access - the most people getting to the most things
perhaps advice for Henry Ford on how to reach constituency - reflectively and critically

Jeffrey Huang
EPFL Media and Design Laboratory

background in architecture
what is at stake in architecture when physical computing will be everywhere?
shift from where we used to do things in physical spaces to virtual - now, it is possible to fall in love in a chat room
what does that mean for architecture? how must architecture change?
architecture cannot remain indifferent
economic drivers from physical to virtual
banks are becoming pharmacies, chamber of commerces, nightclub, spa
shift in many other loci of activity
but a shift to the virtual does not preclude staying in the physical
is there a place where the two can meet?
architecture as interface in this mediated state
old idea: Athanasius Kirchner's "Kangschneke"
recent example: Eames Think Pavilion

his work
Swisshouse Project
- rethinking diplomacy
- challenging idea of embassy as one central massive building
- instead, network of more inexpensive smaller buildings that are interconnected
- walls link cities - collapse of different locations
- not so much about connecting people but connecting spaces with people in them
- same budget for digital as for physical building
- cannot reinvent everything from scratch for every project

Physical Computing at Harvard (undergraduate program)
- think about integrating physical computing into building materials
- ex: electric angora
- ex: ambient doors - door indicates amount of activity
- ex: interactive wallpaper - microphones capture snippets of conversations, which are transformed to text and float on the wall. issue: consent - started using very large microphones so that users share thoughts with wall - wall does not spy on users
- ex: augmented bathroom mirror - connect private space of bathroom with vastness of Internet - by sending bathroom images to Hot or Not
- ex: transparency

integration of physical computing into architecture is inevitable.
We have the choice to intervene actively and design critically or stand by passively.

Q: Scott K - refers to How Buildings Learn - what are the cycles of change?
A: convergence of prototype and final product - there will be no final product - these buildings will be prototypes that keep on living
Q: Agile architecture?

Sasha Harris-Cronin
both an artist and a builder of interactive museum exhibits

"I don't research. I make stuff."
Deals with Jeffrey's idea of prototype and final product being the same thing
the museum model: prototyping is built into the process - but in the end, you're making a one-off that is supposed to be used by 500,000. and the people who take care of it don't know much about engineering
what kinds of tools do you use to get there? what level of tools do you use to make it?

Conservation Lab - Bishop Museum, HI
reactive table using machine vision and RFID
won two awards - one from Int'l Design Magazine, one from Communication Arts
three tables, right next to each other
experimentation leading to choices
bought a full-featured vision system for $1000 - and that's good - because time is money in commercial building. Remember, this isn't research.
everything looked good until they got onsite - which is where the difficulties started
and they had to go to Hawai'i every time they had to touch something
even though Sasha can plug in to the system via VPN
now they're doing their own custom IR flood light
lessons learned
- should have done their own software, for example
- this turned out to be kind of a sketch for future work
- and they're still fixing it

Zeum, SF CA "You're Flying"
3 years of adaptations
"it's all glue" - very simple hardware
it breaks down sometimes, but it mostly works very well
a series of sketches within a collaboration with a museum
test ideas, use high-level hardware SAFELY, unlike the other one
and it's LOCAL
in the future, now they go straight to low-level for tricky projects because they know they can get it right. fighting with someone else's stuff is not worth it

David A Mellis

Just Enough Prototyping at Interaction-Ivrea

about IDII
about Arduino

Control Freaks, OpenBuilder,

this stuff is hard
- large gap between the idea (eg, "use a shift register") and a working circuit
- ordering parts is a nightmare (no pictures on sites, you don't know what you need)
- need an expert advisor
- can't expect people to read a datasheet or a standard C reference

cheap/available is crucial
- big mental barrier to ordering anything (on a 2 week project, people work with what they have, even if it's not perfect)
- platforms need to work with standard components (what if you need a Phidgets accelerometer and they're out of stock)

next goal
- today's goal is making an LED blink. what's the next goal?

modular architecture
- pluggable code: event-based programming? (maybe a bit like Max/MSP)
- independence of a particular hardware platform

open reference
- across platforms/products
- organized by functionality/need, not component

open standards
- communicating between microcontroller and PC
- interfacing with other software

data analysis tools
- eg, on an acclerometer (telling a jump from a step)

the new school
Insitute for Interaction Design Europe
in Copenhagen
fall 2007
initial money from Danish gov't
- a school and a research lab in parallel
-- academics (school) and business work (lab) feeding each other

Q: Bjorn - why the reluctance to spend money when art supplies are bought easily?
A: Tom - because people know what they're buying as
A: Jim - immediacy
A: Tom - importance of touching
A: Jim - loaners have been quite successful
Judith: middle ground between Sasha's world ($1000 is a find) and students (subsidized) - what about inventors - where do those people get their supplies? where's the open library?

Bjorn Hartmann
Beyond APIs for buttons and sliders: Prototyping with integrated design, test and analysis

dtools: just another one?
different questions in tool research than tool development
- the beautiful finished drawing
- thinking through doing
-- epistemic activity - goal is not artifact but feedback gained through building it - from yourself or from other
- building through feedback as a central concern of our designs
-- traditionally most tools have been in the design space
-- but what about testing and getting feedback

dtools design
- runs in Eclipse as a state-based graphic interface
- moving from hardware to software screens
- runs live and interpreted
- can attach Java code
- Eclipse gives you industry-standard behavior, windows managing, integration with source control for free through Eclipse
- introduce level of abstraction between components and software
- extensible with
-- I2C sensors
-- software: anything that speaks OSC
-- microcontrollers
- software control
-- drag and drop with "sensible defaults"
-- add/layer transitions
-- program sensors by automatic insertion of data
-- full Java control

dtools test and analyze
- test and analyze with users
- two screen setup
-- onescreen dedicated to state chart, another dedicated to timeline annotation of what's happening during the user test
-- can integrate live video stream (evaluator annotates) with hardware events
-- so that video is already annotated - because everybody videos, but almost no one returns to analyze them
- so you can move back and forth between state chart and video
- query by demonstration
- you can run multiple sessions with same prototype and compare in video matrix for rapid visual scanning

d.stix: wireless prototyping
- xscale based, runs linux, wifi
- once you cut the tether to the PC, it changes testing
-- no implied orientation
-- not constrained to room

(Phidgets|Wiring) & d.tools
- now works

Q: Michael Rodemer - availability?
A: those boards we made we gave out - no available boards at moment, but software is open source Sourceforge projects
Scott K - given board designs away - they can be used by anyone who wants to make them
Sasha - lots of people in industry would love the analysis part, since no one else is handling it
Q: Tom - Eclipse - cross platform?
Bjorn - Eclipse is Xplatform, but there's some specific glue. Video is especially hard
Scott - there is some xml
Ed Bennett
School of Art Institute of Chicago
Art and technology - kinetics

dealing with the line between media and non-media based art
Ed mostly deals with non-media - low level of abstraction for visual/tactile learners

Edison: "to invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk"

school accommodates people working from material to concept
a lot of handwork, a lot of soldering

display case of mechanical and technical components for students to look at
and a website reference

as fashions change, should they take materials out of the cabinet or leave it in for historical reference and because students often use surplus?

operates at low level of abstraction - buttons and switches actually affect actuators

links to sources page

saves time by allowing new students into conference room and letting them play around

all low voltage, all designed to be touched

what the device looks like, and how it's connected up

helping students deal with supporting and connecting art to the floor

demo of the display system


Dave Vondle

user centered view of designing electronics

2 personas
moving from optimizing cost/performance, reliability and robustness
to speed, communication, testing

budget focus
from unit cost to design hours

components are usually designed by and for the first case
based on educational elitism - for example, datasheets, spec sheets, manuals that only electrical engineers can read
translating documentation from the first persona to the second
changing not just the kind of information but frameworks for accessing this information

bad data sheets
relevant information obscured
no description of capabilities
assumption about education level
self-referential - no navigation to understanding

good data sheets
describe what the part is for
lots of sentences
sample circuit

the two personas have totally different tasks
- one is bottom up - focused on detail, building blocks
- other is top down - looking at what a new device might do from a user's perspective

so organize data in a top down way

observable qualities
classifications of technologies

binders categorized into applications, THEN technologies
tech box
tech map
- types of technologies linked to named experts

create and share tools within design community, since component manufacturers are still focused on detailed engineering

Q: ScottK - do people actually use the tech box?
A: sometimes
discussion - materials connection

Brian Hinch

- connecting Phidgets|Making Things to Flash|Java
- based on Flash components
- self-documenting system: live manual
-- making it easier to write documentation [works like Java docs]
-- complete instructions
-- sample code with illustrations
-- copy n paste
-- as thorough of a glossary as possible
-- ScottK describes as "context-aware data sheets"
-- should work with EZI/O, midi

Matt Cottam
- wants to do more training than teaching in physical computing
- "what is a switch?" project
-- using leftover materials to create pressure/gesture interactions
-- a week-long project - each student creates 50 switches, and then they come back and group them and discuss changes in scale, use
- hacking keyboards
-- wireless keyboards make this very fancy
- turning point: assignments that focus on subject, not method
-- ie, assignments about relieving repetitive stress syndrome
-- using Flash - cheapness of time/effort - lots of documentation, access, understanding - lots of industrial designers know Flash already - "one less thing we have to talk about"
-- using Java - focus on conversations between engineers and designers
- moving from one-liners to useful projects
-- made it for ourselves, realized it was useful to others, realized they could sell it for a small price to keep the website up, now going back to idea of shareware


Chipp Jansen
artist and freelance programmer

does a lot of performance with food production and with cable news


Brooklyn - Renegade Craft Fair + Make magazine
- is there a craft revival?
- Make is starting a craft magazine

- DIY, self-taught ethic
- community (stitch n bitch)
- hobbiness
- cheapness to it
- teaching dumpster diving - reusing and recycling the hardware we have around us

Q: Judith - gender - Makerfaire - where is the value in bringing those communities together

Ed - language - make has traditionally been female, build traditionally male

knitting - success happens immediately

Tom - divides - student: electroniccrafts.org - ideals imbalance
why do we separate make from craft from build?

social and economic relationships of craft - apprentice, journeyman, master

Malcolm: craft - instable technologies (remember Hypercard?)

Ed: thinks of craft as manual technique, gained through time and criticism - making devices that have a good self-esteem - that is made with care and performs well

Tom: different sets of values - electrical elegance vs aesthetic elegance. the question is, does it function? if so - merging the two

Chris: California Colleges of Arts and Crafts dropped the "craft"

Sasha: Makefaire - diy includes traditional crafts

Chipp: publish the magazine twice as much, but with a mixture

Scott: < a href="http://www.heathkit-museum.com/">Heathkit - more like paint by number than Make

Chris: relate to hacking ethos


Dave Zicarelli
Cycling 74

Hobby Club - his mom's social group

1) Is there a role for Max/MSP in the physical computing world?
- maybe programming less, not more, is the answer
- interesting that many presentations have not talked about more programming
- meteor (named after high tech, hated Paris subway) - for DSP
- patches that run in microcontrollers
- to work seamlessly with inexpensive networked computers
- goal: increase modularity
- or use XScale or other very small Intel machine - so you write the code on one machine and use it on another
- rewriting Max so that display is divorced from logic
- open vs modular
-- are modular systems less open? (because they exclude many possible connections in favor of standards)
-- is openness important to getting things done
-- only when you hit the limit of the existing system
2) What are you going to do with that Roomba?
- using Max allows Dave to see anything in the world as an instrument
- musicality is a cognitive process - you learn by forgetting what you're doing
- contrast with software
- controlling Roomba with keyboard [funny - like Tod's]
- Roomba pas de deux, synchronized swimming
3) Why are you trying to give a presentation in a web browser
- use Max in a web browser!
- integrating device control INTO documentation

Scott Minneman
Suitable for Framing: A Make-Tank Paradigm for Innovation

works at museum design - a "make tank" for interactive devices

Make Tank vs Think Tank

Scott sketches, but at some point someone will take the sketch away from him and put it into use with hundreds of thousands of people/year

onomy's mission/method - working at boundaries

Tilty Table
"reading with your whole body"
thinking about sensors
- managing risk in prototyping for use in public places
- found a good sensor, but the company wouldn't sell one
- so used a roll-your-own

Thinking about make tanks
- we are in the hotbed of make tanks here, at Henry Ford
- but make tanks tend to be Super Fund sites - dangerous chemicals
- make tanks: clusters of people, tools, places
- Hewlett-Packard, Jobs/Wozniak, Bette Nesmith Graham (developed white-out in her garage)
- make tank enablers
-- fabrication technologies (80/20 extrusion, laser cutting, water jet, 3D printing, CNC)
- make tanks as/in places

Interconnected City - v1.0
- screen as magic lens
- you run out of development cycles - you build the piece on the floor
- it's now fully operational

What it all means - conclusion

is the floor high or the ceiling low? Tom says, it's all about ground
barriers to entry still really high
cost v simplicity?
"put it into things"
"connect it to other things"

debugging: debugging rules

USB scope
we're at where television was in 1930
long time getting there

standards - mike
code of practice - sasha
manifesto - judith
guidebook - tom
malcolm - negotiation
supermarket no-nos
"fish has been done"
"how do I get everything into the basket"
"what's the hardest thing to cook"

who is "we"?
- artists, industrial designers/students, the people in this room

design assumptions: breaking standards to create uniqueness
engineering assumptions: broadening and including standards

"wide open field" is frightening for non-designers

[different conceptions of what a cottage industry looks like]

"simplicity is not always easy"

next goal: getting modelling to where the electronics are now

Posted by egoodman at June 26, 2006 8:23 PM


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