Getting excited

Monday 9 a.m. – the best time and day to start off this practical course with an introduction to electronics. Sebastian and Hendrik explained the most basic parts and concepts to give us some fundamental knowledge for the upcoming tinkering. We learned about current, resistors, LEDs, transistors, Ohm’s law and so on. After that, the fun part started when we received some basic soldering training and learned how to apply a multimeter to measure various parameters. Unfortunately, the need for coffee could not be measured precisely by that device.

Keyboard Hacking

After lunch, we began hacking keyboards: By opening the backs of the brand new devices and removing unnecessary parts in an unscrupulous act, we salvaged the main component, the control unit. Modifying these control units allowed us to send input manually to the connected computers, using several new and rather unusual interaction methods.  The main topic for this modification task was the idea of creating a new “game controller”. So we teamed up in groups of two, following probably THE most ridiculous way to find the partner: draw a card from a hat and make the sound of the animal that’s written on that very card. This actually happened and we can prove it whenever necessary. So the groups and gave new life to the poor little keyboards that we tore apart like a hungry lion hunting down a gnu. Some of the results are shown in the pictures below.

In general, no special preparations were made for this task. Apart from the keyboards, we just used what was available from the institute’s tremendous pool of parts, known to some as the chamber of horrors.
While the design wasn’t the primary goal and pretty much reminded of traditional gamepads, some ideas didn’t rely on moving within a game via ordinary buttons, but instead by tilting the device. This feature was enabled through the use of super-awesome “ball switches“. On top of that, buttons triggered special actions like shooting. One group added a foot-pedal as well, to take the player’s game experience to a higher level for a racing game – pedal to the metal and Mario Kart was pwnd.
Another group created their own game, using contacts attached to the floor and one foot of the player. It was therefore possible to detect real jumps. The challenge of the game then was to achieve the longest “air time” possible (by this point, you might have noticed the pic with the one guy walking on air. Don’t worry – he eventually came down and did not have to stay up there).
A cool concept was created for a balancing game: Here, the controller most closely resembled the actual appearance of the game itself where the player would stand upon a simple seesaw-like balancing board, which could then be rocked from one side to the other to keep several balls from falling off a shifting wooden plank within the game. N1.

See ya tomorrow

At the end of this first day we have already gained some general experience with creating and modifying electronic devices. Overall, the idea of “sketching” became clearly visible, which is fundamental to this course. Always remember, kids: We are not here to develop highly refined products, but prototypes – or, well, sketches. Hacking a keyboard gave us a good first impression of what this means, but we bet there’s a lot more to come.

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