Sketching in Hardware 2011

2011 July 31

Last week, I attended Sketching in Hardware 2011 in Philadelphia (USA) and it was super interesting. I missed last year’s edition, so I was happy to be able to participate in this year’s gathering.

Sketching in Hardware is an annual summit on design and use of physical computing toolkits. The summit invites toolkits developers, educators and makers to discuss about prototyping in the realm of hardware + software electronic toolkits.

I decided to present my thoughts and some insights related to scaling issues in hardware sketching that I’ve been observing while teaching at UID over the last 5 years. I titled my presentation “Extreme Interactions”, knowing it can be interpreted in many ways. In this presentation, extreme means beyond the common, outside of your comfort zone. In typical Physical Computing classes, students learn basic electronics and how to interface hardware with software. The baseline activities often revolve around Arduino, with a few sensors, some LEDs or servos, and maybe a specialized module or shield. What I wanted to convey in my presentation is that the world of physical computing is much larger than that, and intentionally exploring different scales (size, power, number, etc) can be very beneficial for learning. The various orders of magnitude are also nice learning vectors to plan, build and reflect about limitations and prototyping activities.

I received good comments from participants and I will definitely try to evolve my thoughts on these scaling issues. I use the Powers of Ten reference to support the exploration of various scales. Maybe the analogy is not right, but I like the similarity with the physical computing domain and the educational endeavors: humans/designers know mostly about human-scale and common issues, anything larger or smaller is tackle by experts. Exploring new domains, pushing boundaries and learning from problems and failures is intellectually stimulating and rewarding.

My presentation is available for download in PDF format: 2011.extreme.interactions.v2.pdf. Be sure to check the website for all the presentations later this month.

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