Integrated Circuits (“ICs”) are your friends!

As an interaction designer working with electronics, your goal is usally on creating and evaluating the user-experience of a product, not on spending long nights in the electronics lab.

Foto: Wollschaf released under theCC BY-SS 3.0 license

This is where integrated circuits (ICs) enter the game. An integrated circuit essentially contains a variety of different low-level components, all wired up and combined into a small package with clearly defined inputs and outputs. This hides much of the low-level complexity found and allows you simplify your electronic design. Integrated circuits are available for many different purposes (e.g. sensors, motor-drivers, multiplexers, etc.) and come in different sizes and shapes (“packages” or “footprints”).

The more recent ICs are often made for use in mobile devices and therefore often too small to be soldered by hand. This is where a variety of manufacturers (such as Sparkfun, Adafruit, Seedstudio and others) offers them conveniently mounted on hand solderable breakout boards, often even in combination with code libraries specifically written for each IC. The libraries and the circuit designs are often released as open-source and can be modified by the community.Foto: Sparkfun Electronics released under the CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license

If you have ever wondered what exactly is inside of such tiny, seemingly magic, blackboxes and how they are made, here is the answer:

Filtering Sensor Values

Getting raw data readings from different sensors is usually pretty straightforward. However, before the aqcuired sensor data can be interpreted, it is usally advisable to remove any unwanted noise (caused by bad power supplies, radio frequency interference or similar).

A digital low-pass filter is a simple and flexible way to clean up and smooth sensor data, here is an example:

The filter can also be used on multiple sensor readings in a single line of code:


For a more detailed technical explanation and other digital filtering options, see page 18-29 from the application note below:

Making Circuit Boards (with Household Items)

To make your own circuit boards with things that you might mostly have at home already, follow the instructions in any of the videos below.

The process demonstrated in each of the videos below is similar:

1. Produce a circuit drawing (manually or using software).
2. Transfer the circuit drawing to the copper plated side of a blank circuit board, thereby masking the areas of the copper that will be part of your circuit.
3. Dissolve any unwanted copper (using an etching agent) that is not covered by the traces from your circuit drawing (nail polish, toner, etc..) .
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Electronic Basics

One of the earliest dedicated Physical Computing Resources online has a compact summary on electronics for beginners, the original source can be found here:

Unfortunately the character encoding seems to be broken, a corrected version is provided below for archival purposes (the text is unchanged):
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The Arduino as a Native Sound Generator

Many interactive artifacts still torment their users with loud, harsh sounding binary beeps and purposefully designed sounds are an exception. As powerful embedded microcontrollers have become ubiquitous and relatively easy to use, new opportunities for sound design in interactive products emerge. Their computing powers often exceed the capabilities of early personal-computers and they are embedded in many common everyday objects – even seemingly simple devices and appliances such as coffee makers, garage door openers and microwave ovens, etc. For most of the time these small computers run idle and are not used to their full extent. What if we could leverage this potential?
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