Physical Computing

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Project Team

  • Dr. Francis Quek,
  • Ranbir Das
  • Akash Sahoo

Previous Participants

  • Dr. Michael Evans, Assoc. Professor School of Education
  • Dr. Tom Martin, Professor Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Dr. Chris North, Assoc. Professor Department of Computer Science
  • Blake Sawyer, Graduate Student
  • Dr. Tonya Smith-Jackson, Professor Department of Industrial Systems and Engineering


In the course of our research in Embodied Interaction and more generally in HCI, we have found the need to think beyond the computing platforms and devices that can be purchased whole. In a number of our projects, we have had to develop our own custom devices (e.g., see Mathematics Instruction for the Blind and Remote Social Touch). More generally, in the world of the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Kinect, and various physically mobile platforms like smartphones and slate-type computing, HCI researchers needs to embrace a more physical model of computing. The day when computing means rows of flat screens with mice and keyboards will one day be as quaint as the typing pools of the previous generation. This vision will require new research in mobile computing, always-on high-speed networks, and the construction of new physical computing prototypes.

The RAPidPrototyping Lab (RAPLab)

This vision of computing led Dr. Quek to lead a successful granting effort on Ecologies of Displays and Devices [1] to the the National Science Foundation. This has allowed us to assemble a state-of-the-art RAPidPrototyping Laboratory (RAPLab) that allows us to prepare researchers in HCI to embrace this model of research. The motto of this lab is: 'If it does not exist, build it; if it exists but does not do what we need, adapt it; and if the parts exist but do not work together, integrate them'.

Just building a lab, however, is insufficient. The greater importance is to modify the culture and way of thinking. Our researchers need to consider the possibility of making something as part of the research process. To this end, we did two things. First, we established the RAPLab Website. Beside describing the infrastructure we are assembling, it lists the projects done using the infrastructure, detailing the devices used, and the approach taken. The intent is that other researchers can go to the site for ideas and more importantly, know to whom they can talk to get advice. Secondly, Dr. Quek developed a 'Physical Computing in Computer Science' class to train students to engage in physical (and electronic) prototyping.

Dr. Quek taught the inaugural in the Fall of 2011. The class was a success, and students in the class nominated Dr. Quek for the Tech 2012 XCaliber Teaching Award which he was subsequently awarded.

For details about the RAPLab, see

References and Acknowledgements

  1. This projects is supported by Quek, F. (P.I.), Evans, M., Martin, T., North, C., and Smith-Jackson, T. (Co-PIs) "I-EN: Device and Display Ecologies,” National Science Foundation, 1 August 2010 – July 31, 2014, IIS- 1059398

Written by Dr. Francis Quek