Embedded Systems and Kinetic Art

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

When: This course has been taught in the Fall of 2009 (as CS5968 and FA 3400) and Fall 2010 (as CS5968 and Art4455).
We're going to switch it to Spring semester so it will be taught again in Spring 2012.

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 know 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.

This class meets with a corresponding class in the Art department, and project teams are required to include students from both disciplines. 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.

Here's a paper I presented in the "computing in arts and sciences" session at SIGCSE 2011 about this course.

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.


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"

Here's a link to the Fall 2010 schedule if you're curious

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

Here's a link to the Fall 2009 schedule if you're curious...

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