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New Moves in the Sandbox

Last summer a small group of us got to play in a sandbox full of new toys — with gizmos, gadgets, widgets, and thing-a-ma-bobs.  Play, of course, is one way of systematically exploring the affordances of a new technology. And sandboxes are designed to be largely free of risk, while allowing exploration, learning, and play.  In this case, the disruptive world we played with is the DIY world of Making, as it manifests in the making of Thinking Things, Smart Places, or Responsive Environments.

In particular, we were making experiments which combined the elements of sensing, logic, and action, supported by a handful of Arduino microcontrollers and a collection of … well, gadgets, and thing-a-ma-bobs. Over time, of course, we learned other names for things: like breadboard, contact switch, and photoresistor, plus servo, LED and stepper-motor. And we learned concepts: loops, interrupts, pulsed-width modulation, analog-to-digital conversion, data types, and the ever-popular “bug” and “reset”. We worked out ways of capturing and preserving our experiments using the conventions of circuit diagrams, digital media, and “computer code”, because we had to keep recycling the parts into new projects. You can find these online in the “Gallery” at the course website.

“Traffic Light” Project by Roark Congdon, Summer, 2012.

I am looking forward to getting back in the sandbox in Winter quarter with a online casino new crop of playmates, and with more time to play.  Arch 498D: “Creating Responsive Environments” will be the official packaging for our explorations this time.

Of course, as putative grownups we recognize that the value of personal play can be supported and extended by observing the play of others and learning what we can from their experience, so the second cycle of the class will include lots of exploration of small- and large-scale projects as found online, with thought about the deeper architectural implications of environments that sense and act.

I believe the combination will engage our hands, eyes, and minds in some new and exciting ways. To minimize academic “risk” associated with engaging with a new and potentially challenging set of ideas and skills, the class will be graded credit/no-credit. If you’re interested, I encourage you to take a look.

Come Hither Sonar sensor controls light display (rhythm and pattern) based on distance. Stop by the Architecture Department Office, Gould 208 to experience !

Written by Brian Johnson

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