'Robots that fetch you tea, you say?'
That was the response of most people when myself and Ste Brennan mentioned that we were going on a physical computing course at Manchester's MadLab. Sadly, we never quite got to the stage of putting together our own robot, but we found the course fun and inspirational all the same.
The course -- an introduction to Arduino and physical computing -- was run by the Omniversity of Manchester. .
A real mix of people from all different backgrounds and walks of life came along, and among the attendees were art students, programmers and inventors.
As we took our seats, I immediately regressed to school and electronics classes. With a plethora of wires, LED lights and resistors before me, I started sticking into my circuit board. Obviously, as at school, this returned no results; nothing lit up, made a sound or even gave me (or my fellow attendees) an electric shock. At this point. I thought I'd sit back and listen for a while...
We started off with an interesting introduction to Arduino and its creators, along with a glimpse at the weird and whacky things people had been creating. After that, we were all ready to go. We got a real sense of excitement and achievement when we managed to light up an LED on a physical circuit (Arduino) board with a few lines of code. We then progressed to two lights, and then on to physical controls to dim them, make them flash, and pretty much anything you can do with an LED.
Arduino is a great technology to get into and the limits are pretty much endless; not only can you program something on a computer to have a physical reaction, you can flip it around and interact with a program called Processing.
With Processing, you can introduce a physical action which in turns tells the computer to do something. As part of the course we also had a quick play with the Processing side, using analogue dials to bend and pitch sound frequencies through our computer speakers.
Overall, 'the beginner's guide to Arduino and physical computing' was an excellent course; the tutor was really helpful and knowledgeable, and I would recommend anyone who is even mildly interested in this sort of thing to look out for the next course and get involved. The guys at MadLab have a great space in the Norther Quarter and are more than accommodating.