As a starting point in physical computing, the first part of the project explores capacitive touch and human-computer interactions through conductive textiles and DIY controllers. The prototype consists of three controllers that experiment with makeshift input devices as alternative communication tools. Unlike the typical form and intended purposes of universal devices such as a trackpad and a keyboard, these controllers provide a counterintuitive user experience and suggest unconventional and unique ways to interact with the hardware through low-tech approaches.

a.) Controllers:  

The set of controllers consists of one trackpad and two buttons and is designed to be used instead of a mouse, trackpad and a keyboard together with a laptop or desktop computer.

b.) Gestures:

Similar to touch user interfaces, each controller responds to specific user interactions or gestures including slide, tap and hold.

c.) Combinations:
Since the controllers mimic the functions of a mouse and a keyboard, it communicates to a computer by sending mouse signals and keyboard strokes through a Makey Makey circuit board. The examples above are of gesture combinations that will generate a corresponding output on the screen.

d.) Output: 

The visual output is a Processing sketch that has been programmed to respond to a user’s interactions with the controllers. The sketch is an adaptation of Tim Rodenbroeker’s kinetic typography GitHub contribution and has been modified to generate randomized manipulations of the letter “a” according to the user’s interactions with the controllers.

e.) Demo: 

As the prototype is designed to replace the use of a trackpad and a keyboard, it is set up so that users can simultaneously interact with the controllers and see the output in real-time.

Acknowledgements: This project was possible with the guidance of Alice Stewart, Helen Leigh, and Rachel Uwa. It was completed for the Physical Computing for Beginners (2019) course at the School of Machines, Making, and Make-Believe and was part of the Mixed Feelings: A Bots, Machine Learning, and Physical Computing Group Showcase.


The second part of the project explores capacitive touch and interaction across digital and physical tools through a series of paper-based prototypes with conductive tape. These iterations explore different aspects of the digital-physical relationship: they are based on a personal observation that anything around us can be turned into a button. Conductive tape is used in two ways throughout these prototypes: 1.) as a tangible form of a hyperlink, and 2.) as an indicator of a selection tool or an active state.  

a.) Conductivity via physical touch: 

Prototype 2.1 is a makeshift potentiometer using conductive tape, jump wires, an alligator clip, and an Arduino to experiment with creating a variable resistor in the form of a slide switch. The strip of tape acts as an electrical path that outputs different values depending on the position of where the jump wire comes into contact with the tape. It is an adaptation of the potentiometer on Bare Conductive’s tutorial.  

A similar approach to conductivity is applied to prototype 2.2: a makeshift touch switch using a photographed, printed image of an actual push button that is made interactive with conductive tape. It explores the imitation of a push button in the form of a touch switch.

b.) Conductivity via clicks + keystrokes:

Prototype 2.3 explores the typical user interactions of clicks and keystrokes in performing sample user tasks across 3 platforms: Project Gutenberg, Google Images, and iOS Quick Look. It explores the different user interactions across each platform and brings our attention to the graphic user interface that indicate what elements can or cannot be clicked on. Here, conductive tape is applied to elements that can be clicked on in order to execute the given tasks. It is also applied to elements that also cannot be clicked on to further demonstrate that anything can be made interactive and turned into a physical button.

Sample tasks:

1/3 Access the plain text file on Project Gutenberg.
2/3 Look up the missing photo on Project Gutenberg on Google Images.
3/3 Preview the saved webpage via Quick Look.

Prototype 2.4 explores both digital and physical output variations by referencing the form of square pixels as the common visual element. The prototype consists of three visual interpretations of the word “Flatland,” as seen on the book cover, that has been recreated digitally through the grid of a game editor (Bitsy), the cells of a spreadsheet program (Google Sheets), and physically through the connections of jump wires to the similar “cells” of a breadboard.

c.) Conductivity via software + hardware: 

Prototype 2.5 explores the graphical control elements in softwares as “conductive” interfaces or buttons. Conductive tape is used to indicate the elements that a user must click on or type in to trigger an action.

Prototype 2.6 is a work in progress. 

d.) Overview: Prototypes

Acknowledgements: This project was completed under the mentorship of Thomas Castro and Clara Balaguer for the GDA Summer Sessions course on De-Modernizing Design course at ArtEz (2019).