Sensing and Control

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DXARTS 470: Sensing and Control Systems for Digital Art, Autumn 2013

Sensing and Control is an introductory studio course focused on the development of innovative processes and techniques for real‐time I/O, communication, and control within the context of contemporary experimental art practice. The course covers real‐time systems programming and basic digital / analog electronics, and looks to locate these techniques within a wider aesthetic framework and historical tradition. In building a critical language with which to analyze relationships between real and virtual, static and mobile, local and remote, online and offline, students are encouraged to implement new tools, new systems and new presentational scenarios for performance, art installations, and other digital arts applications.

An intensive ten‐week course, we will cover basic techniques early‐on and reinforce them through extensive hands‐on work, availing ourselves of pre‐packaged hardware, software, and rapid‐prototyping tools.


Assignments and Grading

The overall class grade will be broken down between weekly prompts and a final project:

  • Weekly Prompts: 50%
  • Midterm Project: 20%
  • Final Project: 30%

Grading of all assignments will be based upon the quality of concept, experimentation, work ethic and realization.

The weekly projects are structured as creative prompts, incorporating material learned during the week. We will have abbreviated discussions of these works in class.

The two main projects will account for 50% of your grade. To receive credit for the projects project, you will need to turn in visual documentation (minimum of three photos/videos) as appropriate, schematic diagrams, and source code for arduino, processing, and any other technologies you are using. These will be turned in to Drop Box in catalyst web‐tools.

  • Mid‐Term Project: An artwork where invisible parts share equal importance with visible parts.
  • Final Project: open assignment.


  • Software - Information Technology: Its New Meaning for Art, New York: Jewish Museum, 1970, Catalogue.
  • Jack Burnham, Systems Esthetics, Artforum 1968.
  • Cynthia Breazaeal, Designing Sociable Robots, 2002. Chapter 8.
  • Norbert Weiner, Cybernetics, Chapter 4: Feedback and Oscillation.
  • John McCarthy, Ascribing Mental Qualities to Machines, 1979.
  • John Searle, Minds, Brains, Programs, 1980.
  • Bertolt Brecht, The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication, 1932.
  • Valentino Braitenberg, Vehicles, 1984. Chapters 1-4.
  • Rodney Brooks, Elephants Don't Play Chess, 1990.


Week 0

  • 1: Introduction and Light Blink. Intro Lecture. Read: Software. Prompt 1: Meaningful Signal.

Week 1

  • 2: Arduino, Digital I/O. Lecture: Arduino, Digital I/O
  • 3: Digital I/O continue. Prompt 2: Control Panel.

Week 2

  • 4: Analog Input.
  • 5: Lab Time with Analog and Digital. Read: Burnham. Homework: Bring an example of an artwork that supports (or challenges) Burnham's ideas, and be prepared to discuss the essay.

Week 3

  • 6: Analog Output + Motor Basics.
  • 7: High Current Digital. Read: Weiner, McCarthy, Searle. Prompt 3: Feedback.

Week 4

  • 8: Midterm Project Intro. An artwork where invisible parts share equal importance with visible parts. Discuss System Aesthetics.
  • 9: Systems Aesthetics, Midterm Intro. Homework: Work on Mid-term project

Week 5

  • 10: In-Class Work. Check in individually on mid-term project ideas.
  • 11: Control Flow and Timings.

Week 6

  • 12: Mid-term Critique.
  • 13: Mid-term Critique continued

Week 7

  • 14:Veterans Day. no class
  • 15: Networks and Networked Hardware. Read: Brecht.

Week 8

  • 16: Wireless Sensors.
  • 17: Physical Computing. Introduce accelerometers. Read: Braitenberg and Brookes. Prompt 4: Live networking.

Week 9

  • 18: Live Networking Exercise. Braitenberg Discussion. Homework: Final Project Proposal.
  • 19: State Machines. Read: Breazeal.

Week 10

  • 20: Guest Lecture, Q&A time. Work on projects.
  • 21: Q&A Time. Work on projects.

Finals Week

  • Final Critiques

Lab Kit

Sensing and Control Parts List

We have purchased most of these parts for in class use. You will need to return them at the end of the term. I would suggest that you purchase an arduino and any of the sensors, tools, etc., for personal use if you intend to continue with this sort of work.

Alternate suppliers exist for many of these parts (Adafruit, Sparkfun, Digikey, and others all stock common Arduino things), check with us if you are ordering from a different supplier.

Student Responsibilities and Requirements

  • Attend all lectures, workshops, labs and critiques (class is Monday and Wednesday each week).
  • The class has nineteen sessions over 10 weeks, so each will have a lot of information packed into it. It is important that you don't miss any sessions and attend regularly. If you have to miss class due to emergency, illness or due to an established religious holiday, then you must notify the instructor directly and in advance. You will be expected to make up any missed sessions.
  • Students are expected to come to class on time, ready to start promptly. Please bring any required materials, homework and notetaking equipment. Complete lab exercises and/or reading homework, typically small experiments related to the current week's topics.
  • Participate in class discussions.
  • Complete three weekend projects: late work will not be accepted.
  • Complete a final project and presentation: late work will not be accepted. Creative experimentation is required and expected: attempt the impossible; use your imagination to stretch the boundaries of any and all assignments.


  • No smoking, eating or drinking in the laboratory, classroom or building.
  • Back up your data. No excuses for losing papers, web documents, images, etc. Keep at least three copies of everything: one on your hard drive, one on a CD, and one somewhere else just in case.
  • If you have a disability that you think may impact your participation in this class, please contact Disabled Student Services. Every effort will be made to accommodate your needs.

Lab Policies

Students have access to the DXARTS Sensing and Control Laboratory according to the following lab policies:

  • any equipment that you have used must be put away in its proper place before you leave the lab.
  • be considerate to other users of the lab. Do not leave any mess behind. never use a power tool without someone else being in the lab.
  • never use a tool which you have not been trained to use, or which you do not feel comfortable using.
  • never use a tool that is damaged. If you discover a tool that is damaged, report it to your TA immediately.
  • never work in the lab when you feel tired or drowsy, or under the influence of medication.
  • if the lab is unsupervised, only use tools that are you are allowed to use without supervision. If you want to use a tool that requires supervision, then contact your class TA.
  • always wear appropriate clothing in the lab. No open‐toed sandals, loose clothing, etc.
  • do not use power tools whilst wearing gloves.
  • tie back long hair while in the lab.
  • use goggles and, where appropriate, ear protection when using power tools. do not use noxious chemicals in the lab.
  • Students will be assigned equipment that must be returned on time.

SHOP ORIENTATION/SAFETY CLASS This introduction with the shop manager is required to use any tools at the Fremont lab!!