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147A. Electronic Technologies for Art I (4)

Develop artworks and installations that utilize digital electronics. Techniques in digital electronic construction and computer interfacing for interactive control of sound, lighting, and electromechanics. Construction of devices that responsively adapt artworks to conditions involving viewer participation, space activation, machine intelligence. Purchase of components kit required.


Robert Twomey

Office Hours: Wednesday 3-4pm, Atkinson Hall Rm 1601 (CRCA research neighborhood)

Tim Schwartz

Section: Wed 10-11:50

Office Hours: wed 12 - 1

Stephanie Lie

Section: Tues 9-10:50, 11-12:50

Office Hours: Wed 2-3, VAF 271


Fk schematic2 L.jpg

datasheet (400+ pages)


Overall grade:

  • Assignments 50%
  • Midterm Project 20%
  • Final Project 30%

Assignments are graded on completion. If I assign something during lecture or if you do not finish a lab activity, that item will be due by the next section (one week later). If you finish on time, you will get 100% credit.

Attendance is mandatory. Each absence (from lecture or section) is a 1/2 letter grade deduction off your final grade. Three absences is a failing grade.

Projects are graded on :

  • 33.3% - concept/proposal
  • 33.3% - effort
  • 33.3% - realization/documentation

Readings will familiarize you with material covered in lecture.


They should both be at the bookstore, though other sources may be cheaper.

  • Scherz, Paul. Practical Electronics for Inventors, 2nd Ed. 2006. amazon
  • Banzi, Massimo. Getting Started with Arduino. 2008 amazon

Additional reference:

  • Igoe, Tom. Making Things Talk. free online through roger

Lab Safety



Week 1 - Introduction

  • Lecture:
    • Grading/rules
    • Goals
    • Art
  • Homework 1:
    • part 1 - Create a page for yourself on the wiki, adding it to this list [Classes/2010/VIS147A#Student_Pages]. On your personal page, put your name and one paragraph describing your interests in art generally and your interests in electronics and art specifically. Questions to get started: Why are you an art/ICAM major? Are you an art major? Why are you taking this class in particular? Do you have any previous experience with electronics?
    • part 2 - Field Research. If it plugs in, has buttons, has a switch, toasts bread, emits light, it probably runs on electricity. We are surrounded by electronic devices. This presents an opportunity. Conceivably, with the right hardware, you can interface with or control any electronic device. Exploring your local environment (your neighborhood, walmart) make a list of electrical devices, and document the 5 most interesting in this regard--things you would like to control. Avoid the dorm room problem--i.e. do not photograph things in your dorm room, apartment, at the price center, etc., unless you have good reason to do so. Dorm room art looks like dorm rooms and thus enters the world severely handicapped. Don't do it!!! Document means photograph, video, or draw. Post images of these five things to the wiki page you made in part 1. If you are feeling extra creative, briefly describe how you would use each item.
  • Lab 1: Power Supply, Multimeter, Breadboard

Week 2 - Voltage, Current, Resistance

Week 3 - Switches, Logic, Loops

  • Reference:
  • Lecture: Switches, Logic, Loops
  • Homework 3: Proposal for Midterm Project: Switches
    • Assignment: Build a circuit with a switch. Think creatively about the idea of a switch: you don't have to (and probably shouldn't) use a push button switch from your kit or the knife switch from lab. What could your switch turn on or off? What is a particularly interesting switch (or system) in the world that you would like interface with? What are examples of things that are switched on or off? Mechanical and physical solutions are welcome, although we are of course interested in electrical circuits. This is about the concept of a circuit and the idea of switch interrupting/altering flow--find something to respond to, and be creative in our proposal.
    • Due next week in section:
      • 1 paragraph describing
      • 1 visualization of the aesthetic of the piece, how is it going to look?
      • 1 diagram of the function of the piece, how is it going to work?
      • Bring a printed copy to give to your TA for credit, and post it your personal page on the wiki, under "Midterm Project Proposal."
    • We will discuss these at the beginning of lecture next week, this is just a first try to get some ideas going. You will be allowed/expected to change your idea before week 5, when the projects are due.
  • Lab 3: Switches, Relays, etc

Week 4 - Sensors, Semiconductors

Week 5 - Midterms

  • Lecture: No Lecture! We are looking at midterm projects.
  • Homework 5:
    • For next week's lab, review these resources to get a sense of how to solder, you will be soldering all next lab period:
    • In class we will be building our microprocessor circuits, so be sure to bring your Arduino kit and necessary soldering supplies, as listed in the lab page below.
  • Lab 5: Build your Arduino!


I am sorry for the late notice, but...

NOTE: LECTURE IS CANCELED TONIGHT! In lieu of lecture, Steph will be in the electronics lab (VAF 106) from 5-6pm to give a workshop on soldering. If you want to bring your freeduino kit she can help give you finish putting it together.

Great work on your midterms last week, I was very impressed by the thought and effort that went into them!

FYI: Tim and I will be attending the opening of and the world is ours... at compactspace gallery in LA, from 6-9pm. [7] All are invited to attend.

Homework for next week: Read pages 1-42 of "Getting Started With Arduino" by Massimo Banzi. This introduces the Arduino microcontroller, a brief bit of what it does, and also describes your first basic activity with the Arduino, writing and uploading the basic LED blinking program.

NOTE: I will use "Arduino" and "Freeduino" interchangeably: they are nearly identical. The official Arduino is manufactured by one particular group in Italy, the Freeduino is one of many clones of the Arduino made by a company here in the US. Both use the same programming environment and have the same capabilities, so we don't really have to worry about the distinction.

Week 7 - Microcontrollers, Digital Input/Output

Week 8 - Analog Input/Output, PWM

  • Lecture 8:
    • Banzi p 56-72.
    • Analog Input
    • Analog Output, Pulse Width Modulation (PWM).
  • Lab 8: analog input/output, PWM
  • Homework 8: Proposals for final projects. Finish lab exercises.

Final project assignment

Week 9 - Interfacing with the computer, higher level sensors

Week 10 - Summary, discussion, wind-down.

  • Lecture:
  • Homework 10: work on finals. get help
  • For Next Week: finish final projects

Final Project


The final project is an open assignment similar to the midterm in that you need to identify and articulate an interest / something you want to make. This time, however, you need to use the Arduino for the project and both the code and the hardware will be considered in your grade. The Arduino presents you with new opportunities, to create:

  • A networked object, which either takes data in off of the computer, or sends it out into the world. see Making Things Talk, Tom Igoe
  • An object with multiple inputs, multiple outputs, or complex relationships between inputs and outputs.
  • Some novel kind of interaction.
  • Think of some of the sensors I have shown in class (and others I have mentioned): do you want to make a project with a 3 axis accelerometer, which is sensitive to position? Do you want to use a range finder? Do a little digging on the possibilities and think ahead on this, so you can order a sensor online if you need to.

If you are looking for inspiration, snoop around the Arduino playground, particularly the gallery of previous projects [8]. Also look on,, and many others. Google searches are good. Try a youtube search for arduino [9]. Or a Vimeo search [10]. There are tons of examples out there.


  • Proposal, posted on your wiki page in a new Final Project section:
    • Two paragraph written description of your idea.
    • One (or more) diagrams of the function of your project.
    • One (or more) illustration of the appearance of the project. You can include additional reference imagery that is relevant to your project. Whatever helps convey the idea you are going for.
  • Realization / Presentation in class.
    • For this project try to avoid showing us exposed breadboards. Solder things up. Hide your circuitry away cleverly. Wow us with your techno-wizardry.
  • Documentation, posted on your wiki page in a new Final Project Documentation section:
    • 5 images/videos of your project as completed. Take these as if they belong in your art portfolio (b.c. they do!)--i.e. try to take them with good lighting, against a white background, with no other distractions in frame. We do not want to see dorm room carpets. Good photographic documentation will focus on the art object and nothing else!
    • Post the source code for your final project on the wiki. Comment it so your fellow classmates can understand what you have done. And be sure to put your name at the top!



Other Similar Classes

WhereTo Get Parts

  • digikey
  • mouser
  • mcmaster-carr
  • small parts

Consumer Teardown

Previous Final Projects

Main Board

Many different options. All share a common programming environment, common code, and a similar physical layout. The board we are using does not require an external USB adaptor, which means all we need to do to program (and power) it is to plug it into the computer with a USB cable.

Here are some of the variants:

Student Pages

Click "edit" on the right to add your own page below.


Register to create a log-in in the upper right.

wiki-text of the form: [[Students/RobertTwomey | RobertTwomey]]

will come out looking like this: RobertTwomey, which is a link to your new personal page on the wiki. Click on it and begin editing away.

There is editing help here and here Image uploading help is here Of course you can always view the source of my page (or any other page) to learn how to do things.

If your embedded photo is HUGE, try some of these tips:

  • [[Image:File.jpg]] to use the full version of the file
  • [[Image:File.png|200px|thumb|left|alt text]] to use a 200 pixel wide rendition in a box in the left margin with 'alt text' as description
  • [[Media:File.ogg]] for directly linking to the file without displaying the file