Sensors can be used with for example temperature, pressure, light, pH, vibrations, sounds, magnetic fields, and other measurable qualities.

Switches: microswitches, tilt switches, reed (magnetic), pressure pads.

Imaging sensors: Webcams/stand-alone cameras; object/colour tracking, face recognition (check Golan Levin & Jaap Blonk on YouTube, and Camille Utterback – tiltable snow globe). Processing-intense, generally requires quite a controlled environment. (Ben’s done a lot of work with webcams)

Arduinos: stand-alone. Phidgets: need computer (Mac mini etc). Analogue or digital input/output interface. Software routines already written for Phidget boards.

Programming for interactivity: MAX/MSP, Pure Data (free), Processing. Flash & ActionScript is somewhere in between, not as easy to adapt for off-screen use, but can be done. (C++ style syntax – procedural programming – for programming elements)

Microcontrollers – Arduino (cheap. open source, bluetooth, stand-alone, relatively robust).

Interface boards can usually handle both analog (wave pattern, gradients) and digital (on/off) signal.

Output: Some devices can be controlled directly from the output board, like LEDs. Others need extra circuitry (too much current or different voltage to interface board, f ex). Usually you use power transistors or relays.

Sensors/actuators can extend the sensitivity and range of human senses.

Examples: A PIR sensor starts an animation on approach. Infrared distance sensors changes brightness of LED lights, depending on how close user is. Sprinkling water on a plant sculpture makes it glow. Tilting an object changes the video it is playing. A Wii mote is used to control a piece of music.

Resources: Hacking mouse, hacking keyboard, hacking Wii remote – lots of info online, Arduino site/forum, Processing gallery, Making things talk by Tom Igoe. Discussion group: Dorkbot. Blogs: We make money not art, Paja (

PC power supply: Cheap, allows for both 5V and 12V, lots of power.

BuildBrighton, GirlGeeks, GirlGeek Dinners are local groups.

(Mike Blow)


2 Responses to “Sensors”

  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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