Project01 – Translation

— codelab @ 8:12 am


Sense something unexpected. Build a device that uses a microphone to translate otherwise unintelligible, unobservable, or under-utilized noise from your environment. This noise can be generated by humans, machines, plants, animals, natural phenomena, or otherwise. Output the translated data into intelligible, thoughtful and unobtrusive output. This output can be motion, sound, light or any media that integrates with it’s surroundings.

“Therefore we are trying to conceive a new way of thinking about computers in the world, one that takes into account the natural human environment and allows the computers themselves to vanish into the background.” – Mark Weiser, Computer for the 21st Century.



Sense something unexpected. Using a microphone, create a sensor that takes data from the physical world, filter that data using software, and convert the data into an alternative physical output. Microphones are unique in their ‘hackability’. With only a resistor and a few lines of code, a microphone can act as a simple knock sensor. With the addition of a preamp and well-documented signal processing library, that same microphone can serve as a high resolution data source for sensing a multitude of gestures, signals or environmental changes.

We are not interested using using microphones in a traditional sense i.e. don’t record your voice and change the intensity of an LED based on the amplitude of the input. We would like you to think critically about ways that microphones can be used to sense any number of phenomena. Consider using a microphone attached to wind turbine which creates sound at different frequencies based on wind speed. What is the relationship between wind speed and frequency? Is it linear? Can you test your setup empirically? Is there some clear relationship from the field of acoustics?

The key here is to think laterally about what a sensor is/can do. Many amazing interactive projects transform a technology through juxtaposition. Take a 3D printer and add conductive components and what can you do? Take an old analog technology and give it a modern twist as seen in these electrostatic speakers.

How products/projects get developed is an imprecise and deeply personal process and there are a variety of approaches. You may at times start with a cool new technology seen demonstrated in another field. You may have an idea for interacting with devices or your environment in a new way that forces you to engineer and search for solutions. Or you may find some previously untapped data source that hasn’t been mined in a way that you find useful.



  • Precedent Analysis – Due Wednesday 8/27
    • Post three projects that use microphones in a unique way.
  • Proof of Concept Demo – Due Wednesday 8/27
    • Pitch a physical prototype of your idea.
    • Prepare a 3 minute demo presentation (hard stop!)
  • Finished Project – Due Wednesday 9/3
    • Video with voice over or text explanation. Less than 1 minute!
    • 6 minute presentation (hard stop!)
      • 1 minute must be used for showing video.
  • Blog Post – Due Friday 9/5 at 11:59pm
    • Include video (embedded)
    • At least 4 high resolution images
    • Explanatory text describing:
      • Concept
      • Process
      • Lessons learned



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