Course Outline, Supporting material for PCFA.



A willingness to learn new techniques and methods to add to your toolset as an artist. The ability to install and use software on your personal laptop. Minimal access to the internet.

Course Description

Learn to sense and control the physical world with the open source micro-controller known as Arduino. This controller allows artists to add light, sound, motion and more to their work. Students will work hands-on with the Arduino controllers to create motion and sound that integrates with their art as well as examine examples of physical computing with Arduino. No previous electronics experience needed. Students must bring own notebook computers.

Week 1:

Microcontrollers and electronics are hard. Lets go shopping! (A brief introduction to what is meant by “physical computing” and how the Arduino fits into it. Also an overview of where you can get what you need for the class both locally and on the web. )

Draft Slide Set:

Code: ….

(igoe chapters intro-3)

Week 2: (you need to have your arduino and a piezo)

Hello worlds, 1, 2 and 3; Programming the Arduino Using the Arduino IDE. (Much of this class will be making sure your tools work.)

Examples of rich art projects built around “what you know”

Draft Slide Set:

Code …

(igoe chapters 4-5)

Week 3: (you need to bring breadboard leds and switches)

Interacting with the world. Digital and analog input and output.  Switch debouncing, Reading and Writing Analog Signals. (Hands on breadboarding.)

Draft Slide Set:


(igoe chapter 6,8)

Week 4: (you need to bring your shift registers)

Communication between devices, serial protocols,

Overview of different serial protocols spi, i2c, and asyncronous serial. Connecting serial your computer and using the built in monitor and PureData. Brief discussion of Firmata and Midi.  Adding more input and output using shift registers. (Again hands on breadboarding)

Draft Slide Set:

 (igoe chapters 7, 12)

Week 5:

Going off the deep end. Getting a handle on timers, interrupts and other things that are super handy but hard to grock. Also a brief tutorial on reading datasheets.

(Project proposals due) `

 (igoe chapters)


Week 6: (you need the rest of your parts)

Putting more I in the Arduino! Controlling motors, relays solenoids and servos. (A little about current power and rule of thumb (no math) electronics. Safety third! what can hurt you.)

 (igoe chapters)

Week 7:

Controlling light, sound, and video. Mutiplexing leds, the “Auduino” and other sound based projects.  The tv-out library.

 (igoe chapters)

Week 8:

Putting it all together. (Finished Projects) Discuss and deconstruct several art pieces, which use the techniques that were learned over the course of the course, including student class projects.


Course Requirements:

Students will program their microcontrollers and prototype the hardware discussed in class using a solderless breadboard. Students will learn coding and electronics in a practice based environment. Students will use the Arduino in an art or musical context by selecting a simple project working through the design, identifying the issues with that project and solving them.


Expected Learning Goals:

Much of the Philosophy and “The Practice” of Physical computing focuses on learning by doing and by looking at what others have done. This requires a slight retooling of the way that we learn and share. The course is structured to get the students feet wet in the core areas of physical computing. Combined with the web and the deep reference contained in the Igoe text the students should be able to imagine new art projects and create them.


Arduino Software.

Week 2: An Arduino uno and two piezo buzzers

Week 3: A solderless breadboard, jumper wires, >5 330 ohm resisters, >5 light emmiting diodes, a potentiometer, and  a momentary switch. Access to, or a copy of, the physical computing book.

week 4: 74HC495, 74HC165, an inexpensive arduino clone (ie: rbba, dorkboard, boarduino)

week 5: A small hobby servo, a L293D, a ULN2903, a scrap motor.

Other Misc. parts TBD



Required Text:

Igoe, Tom and O’Sullivan Dan: “Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers”. Boston: Thomson Course Technology, 2004 (ERATA:

Optional Text:

Banzi, Massimo: “Getting Started with the Arduino”, O’Reilly, 2009

(A link will be provided to the original open source pdf)

Most other material will be on line. Relevant links will be provided per class.




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