Embedded Systems and Kinetic Art:
Drawing on Data

Instructors: Erik Brunvand (School of Computing) and Paul Stout (Department of Art and Art History)

Course Numbers: This course is cross-listed for Spring 2014 as CS5789 and Art4455

When: Spring Semester 2014, T-Th 3:40-6:40

Where: We'll meet both in the Art building and in MEB. The first meetings will be in Sculpt 178.
Sculpt 178 is the "Sculpture area" in the Art building. It's in the SE corner of the art building.
We will also sometimes meet on Tuesdays in WEBL 124. This is the "Mac Lab" in the Warnock Engineering Building (Lower).
(There's an interactive map of campus located here if you don't know where Art or MEB are...)

What: Drawing on Data is our theme for 2014. We want to focus on kinetic art that draws upon, or reacts to, or modulates, or is otherwise connected to data. This could be as simple as using real-time sensors to capture data about the environment in which the artwork lives, or as complex as performing detailed data analysis to drive the kinetic behavior, or any number of other ways that data can be used as a fundamental element in the work.

Why: One of the main purposes of this joint class is to help students understand the fundamental notion of DESIGN, both in engineering and the arts. We all can appreciate good design when we see it, and appreciate things (both computer-related and art-related) that exhibit excellence in design. But how do good designers learn to be good designers? We hope that this course is one step along that journey.

From the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) side we encourage students to apply their technical skills in a context that is explicitly non-technical. This can allow students thefreedom to try a wide range of approaches to a particular problem. In the process, engineers are exposed to a variety of aesthetic and creative concepts that would not normally be part of an engineering curriculum. Artists explore programming and engineering in a context that is more conducive to their learning style because it is directed at art-making. Both groups of students gain practical experience in design-thinking which is quite distinct from the computational thinking that is usually more associated with CSE.

Course Description

Kinetic sculpture is art that contains moving parts or depends on motion, sound, or light for its effect. The kinetic aspect is often regulated using microcontrollers  connected to motors, actuators, transducers, and sensors that enable the sculpture to move and react to its environment.

An embedded system is a special-purpose computer system (microcontroller) designed to perform one or a few dedicated functions, often reacting to environmental sensors. It is embedded into a complete device including hardware and mechanical parts rather than being a separate computer system.

Kinetic art using embedded control is a marriage of art and technology. Artistic sensibility is required for concept and planning, and engineering skill is required to realize the artistic vision. In this project-based class computer engineering students will work together with art students to build collaborative kinetic art pieces. Students will explore interfacing of embedded systems with sensors and acuators of all sorts, along with real-time/interactive programming techniques and interrupt driven system design. They will also explore physical and conceptual aspects of machine-making as a sculpture process.

Drawing on Data implies a connection between the artwork developed, and some sort of data that mediates its behavior. We will start with individual projects, and then finish with group projects that include both artists and engineers. We want to make kinetic art that is interesting sculpture in its own right, and that involves data of some sort in its conception or behavior. This is a cross between an engineering class (embedded system design and programming) and a studio art class (designing and building the sculptures) with all students participating fully in both areas.

Course Schedule

This collaborative course is constantly evolving, so the schedule will be changing from week to week as the course evolves...

Remember to start keeping your sketchbook! We expect a page a day in your sketchbook related in some way to this class. Remember, not every page needs to be a masterpiece, but we want you to get in the habit of drawing/writing/composing in your sketchbook every day. We also hope that you'll use your sketchbook for inspiration, ideas, planning, prototyping, etc. for your projects.

Some of the parts of the class that are yet to be firmly scheduled:


Meet In: Topics/Agenda Links
T: 1/7 Art 178
  • Introduction
  • Historical survey of kinetic art
  • A look at past versions of this class
Th: 1/9 Art 178
  • More motivation and examples (drawbots)
  • Soldering Demo
  • Discussion of Reading #1: Jones
  • Drawbot Slides
    • Not actually all that interesting because the movies don't make it into the pdf...

T: 1/14

Art 178

Th: 1/16 Art 178
  • Finsh student Artist Reports
  • Discussion of Reading #2: Bouttiaud
  • Drawbot Project details
T: 1/21 Art 178
  • Sketchbook Assignment 2: Linkages due
  • Drawbot demo/critique
  • Linkage discussion/demo
  • Slides about linkages (coming soon)
Th: 1/23 Art 178
  • More drawbot demos
  • Programming intro
  • Discussion of Reading #3: Benjamin
T: 1/28 WEBL 124
  • Programming/wiring hands-on - LEDs etc.

Th: 1/30

Art 178
  • Surplus/Hacking project preview
    • Bring your device/artifact in for review
  • Discussion of Reading #4: Bishop + response
T: 2/4 WEBL 124
  • More programming - sensors
  • Programming - motors
Th: 2/6 Art 178
T: 2/11 Art 178
  • Surplus/Hacking project demo/critique
    • Demonstration of hacked project
Th: 2/13 Art 178
  • Principles of design
  • Basic 3d sculpture lab
  • Discussion of Reading #6 Burnham (system)
T: 2/18 WEBL 124
  • Review of servos, light sensors, and calibration
Th: 2/20 Art 178
  • Presentation by Paul on his work
  • Presentation by Erik about Drawing Machines
  • Discussion of Reading #7 Duchamp (3 short essays)
T: 2/25 Art 178
  • Servo/Sensor/Arduino work day
Th: 2/27 Art 178
  • Servo/Sensor/Arduino project demo/critique
T: 3/4 Art 178
  • Additional Servo/Sensor/Arduino demo/critique
  • DC motor and Stepper Motor activities
  • Major Project #1 team forming
  • Major Project #1 brainstorming
Th: 3/6 Art 178
  • Major Project #1 design discussion
T: 3/11  
  • No Class: Spring Break
Th: 3/13  
  • No Class: Spring Break

T: 3/18

WEBL 124
  • SPI interface, external LED chips
  • Pop-up gallery tour
Th: 3/20 Art 178
  • Major Project #1 design discussion
T: 3/25 WEBL 124
  • Interrupt programming
Th: 3/27 Art 178
  • (Erik out of town)
  • AC control
  • slides on AC control
T: 4/1 Art 178
  • Project work day
Th: 4/3 Art 178
  • (Erik out of town)
  • Project work day
  • Reading Responses due
T: 4/8 Art 178
  • Major project demo/critique
Th: 4/10 Art 178
  • Exhibition planning
    • Decide on all pieces for exhibition
    • Exhibition title, publicity, etc. planning
T: 4/15 WEB
  • Installation work day
Th: 4/17 WEB
  • Installation work day
T: 4/22 WEB
  • Final Installation!
Th: 4/24 WEB
  • Gallery Opening!!

Other Information...

LINKS: On this page you will find interesting links related to embedded systems and kinetic art

Here are some conference presenations that Erik and Paul have done relating to this course, and to kinetic art in general

Here's a short video produced by the University of Utah PR office related to the Fall 2010 version of this course.

Intersectio | A Kinetic Art Connection from The University of Utah on Vimeo.

Here are links to previous year's schedules if you're curious

The 2010 offering of this class was with CS5868 and Art4455.
The class projects were shown in the Gittins Gallery in February 2011.
Click here for pictures/videos of that gallery show: Intersectio

Intersectio is Latin for "the intersection of"


The 2009 offering of this class was with CS5868 and FA4300.
The class projects were shown in the Gittins Gallery in January, 2010.
Click here for pictures of that gallery show: Invisible Logic