What Is Physical Computing?
Physical Computing is an approach to learning how humans communicate through computers that starts by considering how humans express themselves physically.A lot of beginning computer interface design instruction takes the computer hardware for given — namely, that there is a keyboard, a screen, perhaps speakers, and a mouse — and concentrates on teaching the software necessary to design within those boundaries. In physical computing, we take the human body as a given, and attempt to design within the limits of its expression.
This means that we have to learn how a computer converts the changes in energy given off by our bodies, in the form of heat, light, sound, and so forth, into changing electronic signals that it can read interpret. We learn about the sensors that do this, and about very simple computers, called microcontrollers, that read sensors and convert their output into data. Finally, we learn how microcontrollers communicate with other computers.
Physical computing takes a hands-on approach, which means that you spend a lot of time building circuits, soldering, writing programs, building structures to hold sensors and controls, and figuring out how best to make all of these things relate to a person’s expression.