Physical Computing | When Digital Systems Meet the Real World

  • Alan DixEmail author
  • Steve Gill
Part of the Human–Computer Interaction Series book series (HCIS)


Maker culture, from soldering sensors on an Arduino to 3D printing a prosthetic limb, has established that hobbyist computing is intimately rooted in the physical world. In education, ‘physical computing’ courses have captured this interest, introducing code through its physical interactions. Interpreted more broadly, physical computing sits at the nexus of a number of strands within HCI including tangible interaction, ubiquitous computing, and spatial/mobile systems. Ideas of embodiment and an experiential approach to design are natural frameworks within which to view physical computing and so it is almost tautologically third wave. However, the hidden action of computation in certain kinds of sensor-rich ubicomp and the AI turn in computing calls any simple identification into question. Product design appears to encounter the ‘waves’ in a different order; as its artefacts become more digital, it is having to consider the agency of computing and adopt more analytic approaches in research and design. Physical computing forces us to regard the ‘waves’ less as a teleological progression, and more as complementary approaches addressing different facets of human experience with physically embodied digital technology. Furthermore, it suggests there are new challenges ahead as we seek to find research and design paradigms that use physical objects as part of rich collaborations with active computation.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.HCI Centre, University of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  2. 2.Cardiff Metropolitan UniversityCardiffWales

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