Physical Computing

Personal prototyping project exploring tangible interactions

This project represents my understanding of how to leverage physical computing, modeling, laser cutting, audio engineering, and animation as rapid prototyping methods.


A demo video of the final concept.


Inspired Sylvan Esso's looping rhythms in her piece "Coffee" (found on soundcloud and NPR), I designed a tangible interaction that invites users to manually layer audio and animations over one another, one audio track per letter of the word "design." To explore the visual and motion components of my concept, I sketched out ideas for how each letter would animate, according to its corresponding audio track.

Before refining my sketches any further, I decided which audio tracks to use. I decided on 6 simple tracks, one for each letter of the word "design." The first track features a guitar clip in E major. I layered on to that foundation a clap clip, a shaker clip, a sound effect, a bass clip, and a guitar melody in G minor. The clips that have rhythm are all at 110 bpm.

Using Audition, I compiled the clips to get a feel for what they would sound like together. Even though the input would ultimately determine when a clip is played, I wanted to get a sense of a best case scenario (if the input triggers an audio clip directly on the beat).


I used Audition to test how each audio clip might sound while layered onto each other.


This album cover (via served as my inspiration for my color palette.


Once I heard the audio files coming together, I was able to draw inspiration from the feeling of the music. I was inspired by one of the album covers that provided some of the clips in particular, and drew my colors from that inspiration.

Given the sound of the audio clip, I created a motion for the "D" letter that is driven by short "staccato" line segments. At 110 beats per minute, the clip and animation are similarly fast paced. I designed the rest of the letters to similarly complement their respective audio tracks.


A demo video testing the motion design for each letter.


Having refined my motion design, I moved on to prototyping the interaction using my keyboard as inputs.


To replace the keyboard inputs with something more reminiscent of playing music, I explored two main concepts: six unique turntables or one old school boombox. Below are some sketches storyboarding each concept.


By sketching these concepts out, I discovered that the simplest solution for individual interaction would be combination of both the turntable and the buttons from the boombox. Instead of directly triggering the animations to play, the buttons would "select" each letter. Spinning an 8-track record (glued to a potentiometer) would then trigger each letter to "play". Using an arduino, I began to prototype how to replace the keyboard inputs with LED buttons. Orange wires are outputs, yellow wires are grounds, green wires are power sources and blue wires are inputs.


Having figured out all of my inputs, I soldered everything using wires in my Arduino kit and connected everything using my breadboard. After figuring out how all of my inputs would fit together, I then designed the turntable which would house them.


The initial models, sketches, and final Illustrator file for laser cutting the turntable.


Ultimately, I decided to go with minimal instructions, with the buttons below the record. After making a foam core model of the turntable, I transitioned to laser cut acrylic. Using black acrylic also had the desirable effect of highlighting the interactive elements, the buttons and record, as they are the only white elements on the turntable. As a final step, I updated my prototype code to use the buttons and potentiometer as inputs. I also had to create a new "selected" state such that only one button's LED would be on at any given time. The end result, a fully functioning tangible interaction, represents my understanding of how to leverage physical computing, modeling, laser cutting, audio engineering, and animation as rapid prototyping methods.