Full Syllabus

Responsive Mobile Environments Syllabus

Course Prefix & Number 48-528 (Undergraduate 9 units);
48-758 (Graduate - 12 units)
Meeting times 3:40PM-5:20PM Eastern
Locations Zoom / Remote
Instructor Daragh Byrne
Teaching Assistant Policarpo Baquera

Basic Course information

This course is part of the Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology program at Carnegie Mellon University. This course is an collaborative studio as part of the Intelligent Environments or Physical Computing minor and concentration offerings.

Catalog Description

Embedded, connected and mobile computing combine to create powerful platforms for sensing human behavior and personalizing experiences in situated spaces. Creating intelligent, meaningful, and opportune feedback to provide serendipitous support for the people and activities within these spaces still remains an important problem. Students will seek creative solutions to this challenge in this hands-on introduction to real-time interactive environments. The course will introduce foundational theories, methods and techniques that range across the aesthetic, the human-centered and the technical. Students will apply this knowledge by working in teams to collaborative prototype a responsive environment which adapts in real-time to activities within it. In these teams, students will work across disciplines to integrate technical and aesthetic frameworks for sensing, analysis and feedback of human activity in intelligent and augmented spaces.

2021 Topic and Theme: Spooky Technology

We often hear that the technologies in our everyday lives would appear to be ‘magic’ and potentially terrifying to people in the past—instantaneous communication with people all over the world, access to a vast, ever-growing resource of human knowledge right there in the palm of our hand, objects with ‘intelligence’ that can sense and talk to us (and each other). But rarely are these ‘otherworldly’ dimensions of technologies explored in more detail. There is an often-unspoken presumption that the march of progress will inevitably mean we all adopt new practices and incorporate new products and new ways of doing things into our lives—all cities will become smart cities; all homes will become smart homes. But these systems have become omnipresent without our necessarily understanding them.

They are not just black boxes, but invisible: entities in our homes and everyday lives which work through hidden flows of data, unknown agendas, imaginary clouds, mysterious sets of rules which we perhaps dismiss as ‘algorithms’ or even ‘AI’ without really understanding what that means. On some level, the superstitions and sense of wonder, and ways of relating to the unknown and the supernatural (deities, spirits, ghosts) which humanity has felt in every culture throughout history have not gone away. Instead, they have transferred and transmuted into new forms.

This course is part of an on-going design-research project, led by Dan Lockton and Daragh Byrne, that has already created an inventory of ‘spooky technologies’. Continuing this inquiry, we will examine people’s understanding of systems in their homes, such as connected devices, information flows, voice assistants, and highlight beliefs and superstitions that emerge around them. What are unsettling moments in the smart home—what do people assume when things breaks down? In tandem, we’ll examine work across art, design, and human-computer interaction, explore the history of the supernatural, myths, and superstitions, and extract possibilities, insights, and opportunities. From this, we will prototype and experiment with working examples of spooky technologies. What happens when Alexa speaks in tongues? Can computer vision read your tea leaves? What would a haunted smart home be like to live in? Can we create new superstitions—or technologies to counter them?

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this course a student should:

A. Domain Knowledge

B. Practical Skills

C. Prototyping

D. Collaboration


There are no prerequisites for this course. Students with diverse design and technology prototyping skills are welcomed. As this course focuses on IoT and technical prototyping, it is helpful if students taken an introductory hardware course, such as the IDeATe Introduction to Physical Computing (60-223) or Designing for the Internet of Things (48-675.)

This course anticipates students to have taken the IDeATe Physical Computing Portal Course, however, students with diverse design and technology prototyping skills are welcomed.

Instructional Methods

Classes will involve lectures, labs, hands-on tutorials, discussions, invited talks, screenings, critique sessions and technical workshops/skill-building sessions. Students will participate in and lead class discussion/presentations.

Course Structure

The course will meet each Tuesday and Thursday, 15.40PM-17.20PM Eastern Time. The course will be delivered remotely via Zoom.

This full semester course will introduce students to responsive mobile environments. Iteratively, introducing students to topics of connected systems, responsive mobile environments, and critical perspectives on technology, the first nine weeks of the semester will tour key concepts through readings, methods, technical workshops, applied explorations and guest lectures. The remainder of the semester will be organized as a open-ended, applied and collaborative project where students can self-define a project of interest to them. This is summarized below

Each year will have a specific theme or focus to ground both the exploration and application phase. Previously, the theme for 2016 was the design and deployment of a poetically informed plant habitat for Mars, while the theme for 2017-2019 was the exploration of human memory and how it can be supported, augmented, enhanced and altered through computing. The theme for 2021 explores ‘spooky technology’ and reflects on the invisible and otherworldly qualities in everyday technologies such as connected IoT products and voice assistants.


A detailed schedule is provided on the course site.

Other Important dates:

Note: this schedule is subject to change.

Exploration (8 weeks)

Introductions: Lays the foundations for the course. Mini-assignments will be used to: interview course participants, identify constraints, open questions, challenges, and assumptions and find opportunities for investigation.

Investigations: A series of small collaborative exercises that build towards a bigger vision. The format is 3-week rapid explorations of a theme, idea or theory.

Fusion/Reflection: Develops a single shared brief for a integrated prototype or set of prototypes. A week of reflection where the class as a whole will review design explorations and synthesize a common vision for a large collaborative exploration.

During this time:

Each investigation will offer:

  1. Concepts: an introduction to concepts and considerations surrounding the responsive objects and spaces through readings, lectures, and in-class discussion
  2. Skills: labs will develop students skills in preparing responsive mobile environments and cover hardware, software, electronics and other lab skills.
  3. Applied Critique: Concepts and Skills will be applied in short and focused creative projects which will then be critically examined through group critique.

Students will complete a regular creative exercise to develop conceptual understanding, refine and acquire skills and receive feedback on their ideas. Students will also be expected to complete a report on a topic of interest to them and relating to responsive mobile environments to demonstrate their review and understanding of the space.

Application (4-5 weeks)

At the end of the semester, collaborative teams will work together to identify a shared approach for a critically-informed responsive mobile environment, prepare a working prototype, and deliver supporting process and outcome documentation.

All students will work on a shared topic or agenda and subdivide into groups based on skill, interest and needs. Collectively the students will realize a series of integrated components that prepare a interactive, connected and thought-provoking solution.

For the outcome students will prepare:

For this phase, students will work in collaborative teams and will be tasked with weekly deliverables towards a well-realized prototype. In-class times will be used to facilitate instructor feedback, critique sessions and group meetings. Critiques with external guests will also be scheduled as a mid-point and final review of outcomes.


Grades will be assigned based on the timely submission of assignments, reading responses, and active participation in class discussions and activities. Attendance is essential and unexcused absences will detract from your grade (see below).

Grades will be assigned based on work submitted through Canvas and/or digital pages for their work (Gallery pages,Google Doc, etc.). To facilitate marking all students are expected to prepare project pages on the Gallery which document the assigned projects and where regular assignments are posted (see http://ideate.xsead.cmu.edu). Instructions on submission will be provided on Canvas for each assignment. Students should review the assignment descriptions carefully.

All work must be submitted or presented by the deadline. Late work will result in a reduced grade.

This course will largely assign a mix of independent and group work. For independent projects, all work submitted must represent a distinct product by that individual and may not be produced in partnership with any peer within the class. Group projects allow for collaboration but expect that all members contribute to the final work equally. Work submitted for assessment in one class may not be submitted in full or in part for assessment in a second class.

Please visit the section on grading for a full description.

Grading Policy

Final grades for the course will be broken down as follows:

A copy of the rubrics used and a full breakdown of grading standards for all deliverables may be found on the course site under: ‘Grading, Feedback and Policies.’

Creative Project Grading (including Final Project)

  1. 30% - Creativity of Approach and Topic - Merit, creativity, and context for the outcome/proposal
  2. 30% - Technical Implementation - Quality of code and execution of the outcome
  3. 20% - Documentation - Well illustrated with appropriate use of code, video, diagrams, repeatability, etc.
  4. 20% - Presentation and Demonstration - high quality presentation and well narrated demonstration of the solution

Grading Standards / Rubric

Grading Scale

The grading scale for the course is as follows:

Process Documentation

Students are expected to maintain good documentation of their work process throughout the course. It is recommended that all students should maintain a journal (notebook, blog, etc) and regularly photograph (or video) their creative work as it is being prepared. Students will be asked to share this documentation with the instructor as part of regular assignments and graded outcomes.

Hardware and Software

We will cover a diverse array of software and hardware relevant to the Internet of Things. While preferred hardware and software will be introduced during the labs and tutorials, students are free to use any software or hardware they wish to complete assignments. Students may use Eagle, Fritzing, Rhino, Grasshopper, Solidworks, Arduino, Python (for rPi), Processing, Pure Data, openframeworks + ofxiOS, iOS SDK, etc.

Required Texts

There are no required texts for this class. Regular readings will be assigned on the topic. Digital and photocopied reading/viewing material will be provided by the instructor and available on the course webpage.

Facilities and Lab Use

As the course will be delivered remotely, there is no expectation of facilities use or access.

If you are located in Pittsburgh, it may be possible to on campus access resources and equipment. Two resources that might be of interest are:

If you are not in Pittsburgh and would like to access facilities and resources for making, it might be possible to do so in your local area: Nation of Makers maintains a community contributed atlas of makerspaces, hackerspace and fablabs around the world.

Again, access to facilities is not a requirement for success in this course and use of facilities during pandemic conditions is at your discretion.

Lab Fee

There are no fees associated with this course. Students will be provided a small budget for consumables where possible, and beyond that will be expected to cover their project costs individually.

Data Loss

Students are responsible for their own work. Work lost to due computer error, portable media error, or personal error is the responsibility of the student and will not be an excuse for late or missing work. At the end of the semester all students may be required to submit all work incl. source code, process documentation, etc. Do not discard original files of any assignment and the use of github or other source management solutions is recommended.


Plain and simple, you should be in every class, regardless of the remote delivery format.

See the full attendance policy


If there’s a planned or unplanned absence for medical or personal reasons, let us know as early as possible. In all cases where you’ve missed a class, you’re responsible for understanding the course content and future deliverables. See the full absences policy

Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity is expected at all time. Carnegie Mellon has a established as well-defined policy on this subject which can be found at: https://www.cmu.edu/policies/student-and-student-life/academic-integrity.html

It is the responsibility of the student to verse themselves with these policies. This, for example, requires the proper acknowledgement of any work used in course deliverables by appropriately citing sources. You should familiarize yourself with CMU’s policy for academic integrity, and carefully read the section on Plagiarism (even if you think you fully understand what it means). All necessary and appropriate sanctions will be issued to all parties involved with plagiarizing any and all course work. Plagiarism and any other form of academic dishonesty that is in violation with these policies will not be tolerated, will result in failure of the course and, potentially, further disciplinary action.

Academic Accommodations

If you have a disability and have an accommodations letter from the Disability Resources office, I encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with me as early in the semester as possible. I will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate. If you suspect that you may have a disability and would benefit from accommodations but are not yet registered with the Office of Disability Resources, I encourage you to contact them at access@andrew.cmu.edu. If you are unwell and cannot attend class for a medical reason, accommodations for course deliverables and required attendance can be provided. In this circumstance, contact me as soon as possible and set up a time to meet (once you are well enough to do so) to discuss. It is recommended that you provide documentation (e.g. a note from a doctor) or if the medical issue will be ongoing, to work with the office of Disability Resources.

Diversity, Inclusion and our Learning Community

This is an interdisciplinary exploration and inclusion in all its forms is what will make our discussions rich and productive.

Within the classroom, I value and will emphasize a safe and inclusive space for discussion, critique and experimentation. Within these discussions, every member of our learning community is responsible and expected to maintain respectful participation. Individually and collectively, I expect we will cultivating a network grounded in empathy, respectful of people’s boundaries and identities, and supportive of responsible and varied forms of expression.

This is a course about community and technology. It comes at a time where technology’s harm to many communities is visible and apparent. Recognizing the work that we do in the academy, in technology, and as designers often embed systems of inequity and bias, I’ve been mindful of this in preparing the content of this course. I’ve tried to provide a broad and inclusive perspective in the readings, cases and topics selected. I invite you to broaden it further by adding your own recommendations of literature, projects and perspectives and by adding your voice to the discussions.

The statements above echo the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the educational experience. I additionally include the university statement below both as further affirmation of my commitment to an inclusive learning experience, but also as it includes important resources for anyone navigating or experiencing issues of exclusion, bias, discrimination or harm.

If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions, I welcome a conversation and reach out by email.

University Statement on Diversity

Every individual must be treated with respect. The ways we are diverse are many and are fundamental to building and maintaining an equitable and an inclusive campus community.These include but are not limited to: race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, ancestry, belief, veteran status, or genetic information. We at CMU, will work to promote diversity, equity and inclusion not only because it is necessary for excellence and innovation, but because it is just. Therefore, while we are imperfect, we all need to fully commit to work, both inside and outside of our classrooms to increase our commitment to build and sustain a campus community that embraces these core values.

It is the responsibility of each of us to create a safer and more inclusive environment. Incidents of bias or discrimination, whether intentional or unintentional in their occurrence, contribute to creating an unwelcoming environment for individuals and groups at the university. If you experience or observe unfair or hostile treatment on the basis of identity, we encourage you to speak out for justice and support in the moment and/or share your experience using the following resources:

All reports will be acknowledged, documented, and a determination will be made regarding a course of action. All experiences shared will be used to transform the campus climate to be more equitable and just.

Grading, Assignments and Your Wellbeing

Besides all of the above, your health and wellbeing is first priority. Particularly as the semester comes to a close and there are many competing deadlines, assignments and priorities, first and foremost, take care of yourself. Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at http://www.cmu.edu/counseling/. Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

If you have questions about this or your coursework, please let me know.

Course Policies

Course policies are included on the next page.


If you have questions about this or your coursework, please let me know.