Capstone: Midterm Update – TA


The part of the project with the most progress so far has been the sensor device.  I’ve attached several sensors to track time and heart rate and display it back to the user, and more sensors could be added or swapped to customize the experience.  Once the task is firmly decided, the final sensor device can be assembled and packaged nicely (or integrated into the space suit).

Speaking of the space suit, there hasn’t been as much progress here.  The suit part will consist of just an upperbody covering, a backpack for “oxygen”, and likely some gloves as well.  The helmet, however, is a very tricky matter.  All helmets on Taobao are either made for kids costumes or are extremely expensive (over $100 US).  I may look into alternatives to a traditional space helmet, such as making a hazmat-type helmet that includes just a flat view piece and a flexible material around the rest of the head.

Finally, a room has been secured for this installation, so I can begin to decorate it to create the desired atmosphere.  I will be moving in to this room to start working within the next couple weeks.


Most of the original ideas are still present from project proposal, but there are new ideas that have been added to the project.  The one major change has been the task which the user performs.  The original plan for a task which should be completed quickly but without too much rapid movement does not achieve the desired effect of the experience (based on user testing, which is summarized here).  Now a new task is required.  One possibility is having the entire experience be an effort to find a solution to a particular issue expected on a real Europa mission, and would require some sort of skill based effort (rather than a time based effort; imagine the space equivalent of changing a car tire).  One great advantage of this kind of task is that it gives an explanation for why the user is not really on Europa, because the simulation becomes part of the immersive experience itself.

Additionally, the sensor device may be integrated into the space suit rather than being an external handheld device as originally intended.  This would not be too difficult to achieve, and seems more practical for a space mission than having to hold a device in your hand all the time.  I may also add a communication system such as a walkie-talkie, but this is far from being realized.


The immediate tasks that need to be accomplished are to get a suit together (particularly the helmet) and come up with a good skill-based task.  After the suit I have a suit, I can look into integrating the sensors and other electronics into the suit.  Then I can focus on the world-building, decoration, and story of the experience.  At this point, I expect the physical and narrative elements of the story to require roughly the same ammount of time to finish, although the physical parts will be prioritized first.  Of course there will be come progress made on both sides throughout the coming weeks, but it is likely that more time will be devoted to the physical elements first and then the narrative elements later on.

Capstone: User Testing 1 – TA


For this user testing session, I prepared a basic Arduino system to track the “radiation” and “oxygen” of the simulated Europa mission.  The mission I gave the users to perform was to put items into a toolbox from a pile of random objects.  They were asked to fill the toolbox as much as possible, but not to take more than the time allowed from radiation and to try to limit their heartrate (which reflected their oxygen use).  Although none of the spacesuit has been prepared, the users put on a large button-down shirt backwards and then wore a backpack that was meant to hold their oxygen supplies.  Unfortunately there was no helmet.

The Arduino system kept track of radiation as a time limit, which was displayed on a Grove 4 Digit Display.  Each digit must be individually calculated (using modulo operations) and rendered, but is otherwise very simple to implement.  I followed this guide which explained how to connect the display without using the Grove-Base shield, and also links to the necessary libraries.

For the “oxygen”, I used a Grove Ear-clip Heartrate Sensor to track the user’s heartrate, and from there calculate their hypothetical oxygen use.  For this testing session I just counted the number of heart beats and displayed that after a successful mission.  An unsuccessful mission displays “dEAd”.  The code was a bit more involved, but didn’t require any libraries.  I did have to check the attachInterrupt() documentation from to make sure everything was working properly, but otherwise this wasn’t too complicated to get working.  There is also an LED which blinks with each heartbeat, and a button to press to signify the user is finished (stopping the countdown and giving them a successful mission).


I tested with three different users.  All three were present for the whole trial, but they took turns testing the project.  After the test was over, I asked each of them what they were thinking while they were performing their task, and what they think would make the project better.  They all said they were focused mainly on trying to fit as much into the toolbox as possible, and gave the following constructive feedback:

  • There should be audio feedback, both for the timer (beeping as it gets close to zero) and for the heartbeat (maybing playing the heartbeat back to the user).
  • The buttons should be bigger; the entire user interface should be made more accessibly.
  • They are interested in what the real suit would be like, particularly the helmet.

Also, from observing them testing the project, I noticed the following improvements that can be made:

  • The users focused too much on the task, and not much on the experience or the technology.
  • Radiation and heartbeats are very similar methods of tracking.  There isn’t enough of a difference between minimizing time use and minimizing oxygen use; finishing as fast as possible will preserve both.
  • The task needs to be changed to something that doesn’t have such a time pressure.  The user should feel like they have a chance to pause and take in the experience, rather than rushing as quickly as possible.
  • A suit and helmet are the next things to implement.  These will go a long way toward creating a memorable experience and immersing the user in the simulation more.
  • Audio feedback should be introduced somehow.  I should also test having the user wear headphones, particularly to see how effective the noise cancellation is.



#include <Wire.h>
#include <SoftwareSerial.h>
#include <Suli.h>
#include <Four_Digit_Display_Arduino.h>

Four_Digit_Display_Arduino    disp;
const long TIME_LIMIT = 121000;
long max_time;

int heartbeats = 0;

#define button 8
boolean pushed = false;
#define LED 7//indicator, Grove - LED is connected with D4 of Arduino
boolean led_state = LOW;//state of LED, each time an external interrupt
//will change the state of LED
unsigned char counter;
unsigned long temp[21];
unsigned long sub;
bool data_effect = true;
unsigned int heart_rate;//the measurement result of heart rate

const int max_heartpluse_duty = 2000;//you can change it follow your system's request.
//2000 meams 2 seconds. System return error
//if the duty overtrip 2 second.

void setup()
  disp.begin(4, 3);
  max_time = TIME_LIMIT;

  pinMode(LED, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(button, INPUT_PULLUP);
  attachInterrupt(digitalPinToInterrupt(2), interrupt, RISING);//set interrupt 0,digital port 2

void loop()
  digitalWrite(LED, LOW);

void blinkLED(int pin, int period) {
  if (millis() % period < (period / 2)) {
    digitalWrite(pin, HIGH);
  } else {
    digitalWrite(pin, LOW);

void displayTime() {
  long t = max_time - millis();
  if(!digitalRead(button) && t > 0) {
    pushed = true;
  if (t > 0 && !pushed) {
    disp.display(1, (t / 60000) % 10);
    disp.display(2, (t / 10000) % 6);
    disp.display(3, (t / 1000) % 10);
  } else if(!pushed) {
    disp.display(0, 13);
    disp.display(1, 14);
    disp.display(2, 10);
    disp.display(3, 13);
  } else {
    //disp.display(0, (heartbeats/1000)%10);
    disp.display(1, (heartbeats/100)%10);
    disp.display(2, (heartbeats/10)%10);
    disp.display(3, (heartbeats/1)%10);

/*Function: calculate the heart rate*/
void sum()
  if (data_effect)
    heart_rate = 1200000 / (temp[20] - temp[0]); //60*20*1000/20_total_time
  data_effect = 1; //sign bit
/*Function: Interrupt service routine.Get the sigal from the external interrupt*/
void interrupt()
  digitalWrite(LED, HIGH);
  temp[counter] = millis();
  switch (counter)
    case 0:
      sub = temp[counter] - temp[20];
      sub = temp[counter] - temp[counter - 1];
  if (sub > max_heartpluse_duty) //set 2 seconds as max heart pluse duty
    data_effect = 0; //sign bit
    counter = 0;
    //Serial.println("Heart rate measure error,test will restart!" );
  if (counter == 20 && data_effect)
    counter = 0;
  else if (counter != 20 && data_effect)
    counter = 0;
    data_effect = 1;

/*Function: Initialization for the array(temp)*/
void arrayInit()
  for (unsigned char i = 0; i < 20; i ++)
    temp[i] = 0;
  temp[20] = millis();

MIC: Concept Sketches – TA & LL

Our team decided to continue with Linda’s idea about of helping her grandmother.  We started by considering what elderly people with limited mobility would need.  What are their greatest challenges?  We made a short list consisting of the following:

  • Mobility
  • Communication
  • Safety
  • Strength and physical ability
  • Entertainment
  • Memory

After deliberating, we decided that there wasn’t such a need for entertainment, and there weren’t many communication issues that fit with mobility.  So we chose to focus on the remaining four issues: mobility, safety, strength, and memory.

5 alternative concepts:

  1. Flashlight with storage 拐杖多功能带灯
    1. Head of the cane
      • Flashlight
      • Smaller space for storage
      • Screwing the cap on and off like a water bottle
      • Head in changeable
    2. Rest of the cane/stick
      • Changeable height
      • Two or more parts
      • Bottom part contains bigger storage space
    3. Purpose: Seeing in the dark, storing safely smaller objects such as money
  2. Screen with buzzer
    1. Head
      • Built in screen and buzzer
      • Screen on top side of the head, less likely to break
    2. For reminders.
  3. GPS accessory
      • GPS feature
      • Small
      • Easy to put on/take off
      • Connected to an APP
    • Purpose: find Grandma (or her cane) where ever she adventures to
  4. Hook cane
    1. Head
      • Retractable hook
    2. Purpose: help to hold and carry bags
  5. Hook accessory
      • Retractable hook
      • Can be put on any cane/wheelchair
      • Easy to put on/take off


This patent is for the assembly of a cane which can be broken into segments.  We plan to have a similar segmented design with an adjustable height setting.

This patent is for a cane whose head includes a light and a storage compartment, just like our first design.

This patent is for a cane with interchangeable heads, which we intended to do with our cane.

MIC: Project Proposal – TA


Project Description

Renewable energy has become an increasingly popular topic, with governments around the world moving toward this model of power production.  However, this usually manifests as large, remote power “farms” of solar panels or wind turbines.  These endeavors, while vitally important, can leave individuals feeling disconnected from important work of renewable power generation.  This is especially true of urban environments where space is limited and power is usually generated far away from the city.  My project is to bring sustainability to provide small, portable devices that can be used anywhere to produce power, whether from wind, solar, human, or other renewable sources.  This project in particular will be targeted at young urban individuals concerned with sustainability.  There are roughly 300 million people in China between the ages of 20 and 35, and approximately 55% of the population is urban.  Assuming just 1 in 1000 of the individuals falling into both of these categories is environmentally conscious, that leaves a market of over 165,000 individuals.  It is not far fetched to imagine that many of these individuals would be eager to have a way of generating power on their own.  On top of that, these devices could be used to charge devices where outlets and other traditional sources of power are not easily accessible (including on-the-go).



MIC: Journal 2 – TA

I have chosen the automatic revolving doors at the entrance to the Academic Building as examples of bad human factor.  For starters, these doors are unbelievably small, potentially impossible to use by especially large individuals.  They are also so slow that anyone who does fit into them must shuffle along at an awkward pace somewhere between a casual and a brisk walk.  On top of that, these doors are automatic revolving doors, which means a user cannot push them to make them go faster, and plenty of electricity is wasted by their use (more so considering how easy it is to trigger the doors even when you aren’t using them)!  I think the simplest solution is to disable the automatic feature of the doors and make them manual.  This does not solve the size issue, but nothing short of reinstalling new doors would fix that problem.  It does, however, take care of the issues of speed and power consumption.  Not only would users be able to choose the speed at which they go through the revolving door, they would be using their own energy to move the door rather than using electricity (and triggering needlessly often).

MIC: Journal 1 – TA

Prompt: Why did you sign up for this class and what would yo like to make (and why?!)

Before the first class, I wasn’t particularly interested in the class.  I had signed up for the two classes which were cancelled, and this was the official replacement so I decided to go with it.  After hearing what this class is about, however, I am extremely excited for what is in store!  I have been interested in electronics and have taken several computer engineering classes, but I had never considered the process of producing a piece of electronics.  By going through all the steps of designing, manufacturing, and marketing a product in this class I anticipate being much more confident with what it takes to realize one’s designs.  By the end of the semester, maybe it will even be feasible to go big with the product and really be an entrepenuer, not just an employee.

I’m not quite sure what I’d like to make yet.  Just based on the screaming mug idea mentioned in class, I thought about making a mug that uses thermoelectric power to light up an indicator reflecting the temperature of the beverage.  It should be possible to make this an analog circuit that requires no external power.  Aside from this idea, I was also considering making some sort of random number generator.  I’m often indecisive, so I’ll use a coin toss to arbitrarily come to a decision.  It would be nice to have a device that could handle more than two options (three equal options is particularly tricky).  Of course, there’s probably an app for that; I need to be careful about making something than can easily be achieved by a cell phone.

CMT: Stack Reflection – TA

The block chain first came into being in 2009, when Satoshi Nakamoto released the open-source software known as Bitcoin.  The principle behind this block chain was to allow individuals to store currency and transfer it without the need for a separate institution or government.  Instead, everything to do with the currency would be verified through a distributed network of computers running the Bitcoin software, which anyone could set up and use.  It was, in other words, a peer-to-peer currency system meant to provide an alternative to the poor practices of established financial institutions that led to the 2008 financial crash.  The image below is a visualization from an Economist article from October 2015 describing how a block chain works.  The block chain fits very neatly into Benjamin Bratton’s definition of platforms, which “rationalize the self-directed maneuvers of Users without necessarily superimposing predetermined hierarchies onto their interactions.” (p48)  On top of that, the block chain also allows for numerous kinds of interactions (which I will expand upon later), another key feature of Bratton’s definition of a platform.

Around the time this Economist article was published, a new block chain called Ethereum was released that promised to expand the capabilities of the block chain even further.  The release video itself is titled “Ethereum: the World Computer” and describes Ethereum as “a planetary scale computer” and “the world’s first zero-infrastructure platform” (which seems to simply mean that third parties aren’t required for transactions).  Ethereum, unlike Bitcoin, is designed specifically to facilitate other forms of interaction than just monetary transactions.  In addition to the process diagrammed above, Ethereum includes a byte-code area which can execute more sophisticated code and even build up applications.  This is a prime example how Bratton envisions a platform: “The centrifugal standardization of how individual components interrelate and assemble into higher-order systems, whether physical or informational, is as important as what any part or component may be. This is how platforms can scale up.” (p45)

The particular implementation of the block chain, whether Bitcoin or Ethereum or something else, isn’t what makes it a platform.  The block chain itself is the platform, and Ethereum happens to be a recent manifestation of that platform.  The Ethereum version of the block chain platform also allows much more expansion than the bitcoin version, has more “generative mechanisms” (p44), and so is likely to replace other versions like bitcoin.  In the future, an even more generative version of the block chain may come about that replaces Ethereum, because it is able to facilitate new kinds of interactions.

One of these new interactions can be found in the smart contract.  Using, for example, the byte code section of the Ethereum block chain, computer code can be embedded that will make automatic transactions.  When set up cleverly, these automatic transaction programs can handle the purchase of automobiles or real estate, crowdfunding campaigns, distribution of wages to employees, and much more.  [see the DAO for an example]  It could even be possible to replace some or all of the functions of modern governments, including taxation and elections.  This is what Bratton means when he says “platforms are not just technical models but institutional models as well. Their drawing and programming of worlds in particular ways are means for political composition as surely as drawing a line on a map.” (p44)  The current platforms of the legal and political realm (often in-person or via mailed paperwork) have already been disrupted by the internet, and now may be completely blown open by the platform of the block chain.

Still, the block chain platform is not perfect, especially its current versions.  From technical limitations regarding sending the entire global transaction history (reaching gigabytes in size) to every computer in the network, to the unresolved risks of this burgeoning technology (which has led to several “hard forks”), there is much to be resolved before the block chain takes over from more traditional platforms.  That said, it seems likely that the block chain will have a huge impact on human interaction in the future in ways that are “unplanned and perhaps even unplannable.” (p44)

CMT: Unthougth Reflection – TA

The idea of silicon-based life has been present in popular culture (particularly in science fiction) for the better part of a century.  The forms this type of life has been depicted by has been varied, from crystline geodic entities to robots and other synthetic life.  To help sift through these many conceptions of silicon-based life, I will use the ideas from Catherine Hayles’ recent book Unthought to select the most probable form of silicon-bsed life.  Specifically, this post will focus on cognitively-sophisticated life at least on the scale of humans and other animals, and how these sophisticated forms of cognition “emerge from underlying material processes” (p65).

Material Processes
One of the most common occurances of silicon in nature is in quartz crystals.  Interestingly, quartz has an interesting electrical property in that it can generate an electric current when put under tension and pressure, and conversely it will vibrate when an electrical current is put through it (how’s that for vibrant matter!).  This is known as the piezoelectric effect, and the implications are impressive; a specific arrangement of quartz crystals under the right conditions could produce an interesting pattern of electrical charge, even responding to pressures from its environment.  In fact, the bones in a human skeleton use the same peizoelectric effect sense forces being applied to it.

On the other hand we have the synthetic silicon technology that makes computers possible: transistors.  Transistors cannot concievebly occur naturally, but they provide a silicon-based platform for cognition.  I will not go into the details of how transistors operate, but the various applications of digital technology are evidence enough for the power of these microscopic components.  It should be noted that neither quartz crystals nor transistors are cognitive in themselves (and certainly not living), but sophisiticated arrangements of these two silicon-based components allow much more sophisticated phenomenon to emerge.

There are plenty of definitions of life that have been proposed, but I will go with a common sense definition and modify it with a stipulation of Hayles: life is the “ability of organisms to endure through time, construct as well as interact/intraact with their environment, and deploy agencies that are not merely emergent but also intentional, even when nonconscious” (p70).  Neither computers nor macroscopic robots can persist through time because neither of them can repair or reproduce.  This is one of the greatest disadvantages of our silicon-based techhnology today, and is likely to remain unchaged for the foreseeable future.  However, at the microscopic scale things are different.

Nanorobots may be the most likely route to artificial silicon-based life.  In the same way that humans do not appear fully-formed on the surface of the earth, nor are they assembled piece-by-piece by an external force, neither must nanorobots be create by external intervention.  Nanorobots can be the silicon-based analogue of biological cells, duplicating and organizing into complex systems and even cognitive and concious entities.  This ability to replicate and self-organize is also what elevates nanorobots beyond the sum of their material parts, or as Hayles describes: “The differences between material forces whose actions are deterministic and hence can be calculated precisely as the sum of the relevant forces, and those that involve self-organizing, chaotic, and complex dynamics and whose actions can lead to the emergence of increasingly complex outcomes, including life and cognition” (p81).

An important consideration for this future possibility is how communication will occur between humans and these new lifeforms.  Although nothing might be known about what form such a lifeform might manifest in, there is a method by which we might estimate our mutual capacity for meaningful communication.  The Sentience Quotient (SQ), proposed by Robert Freitas in 1984, takes the information processing speed of a cognitive assemblage divided by the mass of that asssemblaged, transfered to a logarithmic scale.  To illustrate, we can say that the human brain achieves a +13 SQ, and is 10 times more efficient than IBM Watson with +12 SQ.  Most animals, even insects like ants, fall within a few SQ points of human beings.  Considering this, any lifeform with an SQ beyond few points from human SQ (in either direction) would have difficulty having meaningful communication with us in the same way that we cannot have meaningful conversation with an ant.  As I said, IBM Watson is currently only 1 SQ point behind us, and by the time we achieve silicon-based life it is reasonable to suppose such life will be capable of SQ’s much higher than that.  It might never be possible for us to communicate with other kinds of life forms, even if we have created them ourselves, and that leads to a whole new set of questions about synthetic life-forms.

NOC – Space Particle System, Tristan A

This project was fairly simple, and was heavily ispired by the Faster Than Light travel effect of Star Wars and Star Trek.  Stars are generated from the center of the canvas and shoot towards the edge of the canvas at a random velocity.  As they approach the edge of the screen, their size increases, giving the illusion of a 3-dimensional space.  It looks a lot like the viewer is flying past stars that are different distances away, and I think it was very successful at recreating the FTL look of those sci-fi shows.


NOC – Multi-body Forces and Attraction (Forces II), Tristan A

For this project I made a system of multiple large bodies that attract smaller particles.  The large bodies apply a gravity on each of the small particles, creating an interesting gravity field that can sometimes have loops or other long paths you wouldn’t expect.


If a small particle collides with a large body, the small particle will be vaporized and removed from the system.  However, the user can place new small particles anywhere on the canvas by clicking the mouse.  This way they can try new positions until an interesting path is discovered, that maybe goes between several large bodies before looping back around and colliding with another cluster farther away.


By pressing the space bar, lines are drawn between the large bodies and the small particles, with opacity that depends on the strength of the force (based on the distance squared).


If the grave ( ` ) key is pressed (in the top left corner of the keyboard), the large bodies will start attracting each other in addition to the small particles.  If the space bar has been pressed to allow the forces to be visualized, the inter-body forces are displayed in green.  The large bodies are allowed to collide with each other and overlap without repelling each other, so one would expect them to form one huge blob eventually.  However, usually the bodies actually spread out into several groups that drift apart, and this has to do with the overlapping that allows the distance to get very short and the gravity to get very large.