Physical Computing Syllabus

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This course takes interactive computing beyond the limitations of the mouse, the keyboard and the monitor. It brings the revolutionary power of the semiconductor away from the home and office and into the physical world of everyday life. We learn to program microcontrollers, which are single-chip computers that can easily fit in the palm of your hand. Through a variety of electronic sensors, we detect aspects of the physical world, such as light, sound, and touch, to input that data into our programs. The applications create meaningful output using lights, motors, and speakers. This course teaches hands-on electronics as students build projects using wires, circuits, and other components.


Amos Bloomberg

Tutoring / Communal Hacking

In-person tutoring/hacking with Sebastian in Room 412:

  • Tuesday: 3:15 - 7:45PM
  • Wednesday: 3:00 - 6:00PM

You are encouraged to come to tutoring/hacking sessions to do prototyping work with like-minded folks here, even if you don"t need help.

Course email discussion list

An email discussion list is set up for this course. This is a good place for you to share information, advice, and get help from fellow students with any problems. Use this list however you see fit.

Computer programming concepts you must understand before taking this course

Topics and Project Assignments

  • Basic electronics components overview
  • Setting up breadboards
  • Arduino setup with LEDs
  • Digital input and output with buttons and switches
  • Analog input and output with variable resistors
  • Creating motion with servomotors
  • Creating sound and music with speakers
  • Music and lights with custom MIDI devices
  • Serial communication with a personal computer
  • Moving motors with transistors, relays, and H-bridges

See the Schedule page for a more detailed course plan.

Parts & Materials

Our only required part is the ARDX Arduino kit from Adafruit. See the Parts and Prototyping materials pages for information on ordering.

Assignments & Projects

Assignments consist of weekly exercises and reading. Students must complete assignments independently and document their work on public blogs. Unless otherwise noted, assignments are due . Late assignment submissions will receive 10 points off for each class session the assignment is late. Assignments more than 3 class sessions late will not be accepted.

Students will design and create midterm and final projects of their own choosing. These two projects must be different. The process of developing all projects must be thoroughly documented. Students are free to work in groups of two or three on the midterm and final project. However, each student in such a group must document their own contribution to each project and exhibit an understanding of the all aspects and inner workings of the project.


Students are expected to come to class. Late arrivals (15 minutes or more) will be counted as an absence.


Your grade is mechanically calculated using the following formula:

  • Participation & Attendance: 10%
  • Assignments & Labs: 30%
  • Quizzes: 15%
  • Midterm: 20%
  • Final: 25%

Required Books

Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest M. Mims III ISBN-10: 0945053282 ISBN-13: 978-0945053286

Selected Readings

Some excellent sources from a variety of disciplines:

  • Chris Crawford, The Art of Interactive Design, chapters 1 and 2 (note: you will need to sign into NYUHome to view this. From your NYUHome home page, click "Research" then "" then search for "The Art of Interactive Design" by Chris Crawford. Alternately, try this link. )