Assignment 08

A Measuring Device.

Census historian James C. Scott has pointed out that measurement is a political act. Data artist Natalie Jeremijenko collects measurements in order to prompt evidence-driven discussion. And in the weird world of quantum physics, the term “observer effect” refers to the idea that the very act of measurement itself alters the subject being measured. Each of these is an example of how measurement can be a meaningful act that alters the world and the way we see it.

For this project, you will create a measuring device that reports its measurement at (or near) the measurement site. Your job is to

  • measure something interesting, and/or
  • measure something in an interesting way, and/or
  • create a interesting provocation by bringing an uncommon measurement to our attention.

What You Will Make

You are encouraged but not required to work in 2-person teams. Your physical project itself will take the following form:

  • An installation — somewhere on your body, on campus, or in Pittsburgh — in which you have situated your Measuring Device.
  • A Measuring Device, consisting of an Arduino microcontroller, an Adafruit 4-digit, 7-segment I2C LED display (provided to you), and one or more sensors of your choice. (This 7-segment display comes with a “backpack” that allows you to communicate with it over the I2C serial interface, without which you’d need a much more complex circuit. You will need to follow Adafruit’s terrific instructions, in particular these.)
  • You may need to purchase an appropriate sensor from Adafruit, Sparkfun, Pololu, Evil Mad Scientist, Seeed, Digikey, etc. It is up to you to get this sensor working with your Arduino. Some retailers include Arduino code and example circuits; some don’t.
  • It’s advisable (but not required) to encase your circuitry in an enclosure of some kind.
  • The Arduino should be untethered from any computer or network, and should be powered by a 9V battery or power-adaptor.
  • Your Measuring Device should display its measurement on the LED display.

Some Design Considerations

Keep in mind the following design considerations, based on a story Golan will tell you:

  • Although you can use any sensor you like, remember that even a humble switch is a sensor. There are an enormous variety of switches — think about tilt-switches, for example. The most important thing is for you to conceive of something interesting that can be sensed, whether by a switch or by something else.
  • Brainstorm how to interpret your sensor. Just because you have a proximity sensor, doesn’t mean you have to measure proximity. For example, you might measure the amount of time that something is proximal to the sensor. The information reported on the display might thus be in units of seconds, not centimeters. Or perhaps you might count the number of times that something has gotten close to (or left the vicinity of) the sensor.
  • Your device’s choice of location is very important. Where the device is positioned will affect who encounters it, how it is perceived, and the meaning it makes in the world.
  • Are humans involved? It is up to you whether your Device measures human activity, or whether it measures the activity of something else in the environment (cars, animals, lights, doors, etc.). You can also decide whether you are measuring ambient, incidental, or deliberate human activity.

Requested Documentation

You are asked to document your project in the following ways:

  • In a blog post, describe your project in about 100-200 words. Include a narrative about how you arrived at the idea, any inspirations you had, ideas you discarded, etc.
  • Mention which sensor you used, and link to it (e.g. at Sparkfun), if possible.
  • Include scans of sketches or other drawings.
  • Include some photos of the installation, and closeups of your circuit or other components of interest.
  • Embed a YouTube or Vimeo documentation video of your Measuring Device, situated in its intended location.
  • Include your Arduino code, using The Wp-Syntax plugin.
  • Include a diagram of your Arduino circuit, using Fritzing.
  • Categorize your blog post with the category, Assignment-08.

A Note of Caution

As the following two stories illustrate, it sometimes happens that artsy circuitry has been mistaken for terrorist devices:

You are strongly advised not to leave your scary-looking electronics unattended in a public location. For realz. If you do, you must obtain clearance from CMU authorities via the extensively bureaucratic Student Project Display Application. You may also be required to post a sign near your installation explaining that your thing is “Art”.