Physical computing

Physical computing means building interactive physical systems by the use of software and hardware that can sense and respond to the analog world. Clarification needed ] While this definition is broad enough to Encompass systems Such As smart automotive traffic control systems or factory automation processes, it is not Commonly used to describe ’em. In a broader sense, physical computing is a creative framework for understanding human beings’ relationship to the digital world. In the use, the term most often describes handmade art, design or DIY hobby projects that usesensors and microcontrollers to translate analog input to a software system , and / or control electro-mechanical devices such as motors , servos , lighting or other hardware.

Physical Computing intersects the range of activities often referred to as engineering and electrical engineering, mechatronics, robotics, computer science, and especially embedded development.


Physical computing is used in a wide variety of domains and applications.

In Education

The advantage of physicality in education and playfulness has been reflected in various informal learning environments. The Exploratorium , a pioneer in inquiry based learning , developed some of the earliest interactive exhibits involving computers, and continues to include more and more examples of physical computing and tangible interfaces as associated technologies progress.

In Art

In the art world, projects that implement physical computing include the work of Scott Snibbe , Daniel Rozin , Rafael Lozano-Hemmer , Jonah Brucker-Cohen , Camille Utterback , Virtual Reality VR / shyam, Augmented Reality AR / hiren, and Electroland LED art .

In Product Design

Physical computing practices also exist in the product and interaction design sphere, where hand-built embedded systems are sometimes used to rapidly developing a new cost-effective way. Firms such as IDEO and Teague are known to approach product design in this way.

In Commercial Applications

Commercial implementations range of consumer devices such as the Sony Eyetoy or games such as Dance Dance Revolution to more esoteric and pragmatic uses including machine vision used in the automation of quality inspection along a factory assembly line . Exergaming can be considered a form of physical computing. Other embodiments of physical computing include voice recognition , which senses and interprets sound waves through microphones or other soundwave sensing devices, and computer vision , which applies algorithms to a rich stream of video data typically sensed by some form of camera. Hapticinterfaces are also an example of physical computing, but in this case the computer is generating the physical stimulus as opposed to sensing it. Both motion capture and gesture recognition are fields that rely on computer vision to work their magic.

In Scientific Applications

Physical computing can also describe the manufacture and use of collectors for scientific experiments, but the term is rarely used to describe them as such. An example of physical computing modeling is the Illustris project , which attempts to precisely simulate the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to the present day, 13.8 billion years later. [1] [2]


Prototyping plays an important role in Physical Computing. Tools like the Wiring , Arduino and Fritzing as well as I-CubeX help designers and artists to quickly prototype their interactive concepts.

Further reading

  • Igoe, Tom; O’Sullivan, Dan (2004). Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers . Premier Press. ISBN  1-59200-346-X .


  1. Jump up^ Staff (14 June 2014). “The Illustris Simulation – Towards a Predictive Theory of Galaxy Training” . Illustris Project . Retrieved 16 July 2014 . External link in( help ) |work=
  2. Jump up^ Vogelsberger, Mark; Genel, Shy; Springel, Volker; Torrey, Paul; Sijacki, Debora; Xu, Dandan; Snyder, Greg; Nelson, Dylan; Hernquist, Lars (14 May 2014). “Introducing the Illustris Project: Simulating the coevolution of dark and visible matter in the Universe”. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society . 444 : 1518-1547. arXiv : 1405.2921  . doi : 10.1093 / mnras / stu1536 .

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