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Networked Objects

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Networked Objects

Spring 2005

Instructor: Tom Igoe
Section 1: Tuesday, 9:30AM - 12PM
Section 2: Tuesday 3:30 PM - 6 PM
Office Hours: Wednesday 10 AM - 6 PM (email me to make an appointment)

Class Discussion Technical/Production Material Reading Due Assignments Due
Jan. 18 Introductions, general themes
  • Space annotation
  • context awareness
  • remote displays/remote controls
  • Location and identification
  • Types of embedded processors
Jan. 25 Calm Technology  
Feb. 1 Context Awareness
  • Lantronix Devices
  • Printed Circuit Boards and Soldering

Project Planning:

  • System Diagrams
  • Protocol Diagrams
  • Flowcharts
Journal notes on reading
Feb. 8 Remote Displays Back-end servers in Java Journal notes on reading
Feb. 15

Cell phones

  Pair Assignment

Journal notes on reading

Feb. 22 Space Annotation Finish J2ME

Introduce Wireless

  • 802.11
  • Bluetooth
  • simple RF
Pair assignment project documentation

Journal notes on reading

Mar. 1 Domestic Applications Finsh wireless, including its overlap with location  
Makeup Class: March 5   Final Project Brainstorm/general discussion   present Midterm Project
Mar. 8 Location & Identification
  • GPS, cellular location, RTLS, etc.
  • RFID
  • iButton
  • Fingerprint Readers
Midterm Project Documentation

Final project idea presentations

Final project abstracts (Due March 10)

Mar. 15 - Spring Break. No Class
Mar. 22   Final project concept reviews   Midterm journal review
Mar 29 - No Class. I will be gone
Apr. 5 Final Project concept presentations Guests to review projects, as appropriate  

present Interface mockups

Apr. 12 Tech research presentations     Technical research
Apr 19  Final presentations     Final presentations
Apr. 26  Final presentations     Final presentations


There are three production project assignments in this class. You'll be expected to do all of them. You'll work in pairs at least for two of them, but larger groups are fine too, as long as everyone participates equally.

The pair assignment and the midterm are exercises to give you first-hand experience in basic networking principles. They are intentionally limited in their scope so we can understand how the network works. If you have an idea that doesn't fit these assignments, feel free to do it in addition to the assignments.

The final project is a practical application of networking and physical interaction design. It can use any of the technologies we discuss, or other ones, as needed. The main aim of this project is to present a workable prototype of a networked application.

Details of the assignments are online here.

If you have a project in mind for the final that overlaps with another class, talk to me about it. There are many good applications of networking and physical interaction design that overlap other classes, and I'm open to consideration.

Journal & Documentation:

You will be expected to keep an online journal of your work in this class. Think of it as a letter to the next group to take this class: the tricks you found that work, the pitfalls you hit, ways around them, sources for materials, reference material, etc.

You should also keep notes on the readings in your journal. The various online readings include some theory, some application studies, some experiments, and some existing products. They're organized in a few loose application areas. Write up what impresses you, what confuses you, what you agree or disagree with, and what project ideas come to you while you're reading. By the time class 6 rolls around, you should have a number of possible final project ideas online.

Your journal can be no-frills HTML, no need for complex sites. Blogs and wikis are fine. A Moveable Type installation is available for all students to use on the ITP server. Feel free to use it to set up a blog if you don't have much experience making websites. Please don't use flash, shockwave, or other formats that are not text-searchable. Ideally, it will give you a head start on documenting your projects for future portfolio reference, and those who come after you a place to look for reference material.

A journal entry is part of the assignment for each project you do, and each set of readings, at the least. Feel free to do more entries as you see fit.

Work on this as you go, don't put it off until the end.

You should document your projects thoroughly. Plan in advance, and perhaps as a group, to have what you need to document at least your midterms and finals. Photos, video, drawings, schematics, and notes are all valuable forms of documentation.

Midterm Journal Response:

At the midterm, a short response (~1000 words) to another student's journal is due. I'll assign who's reading whose journal a couple of weeks before. Send your response to both me and the person whose journal you read. Comment on whatever aspect of the journal seems most worth discussion. It may be that the person had particularly strong opinions on some readings that you agree or disagree with; it may be that he or she had project ideas that inspire you, or that seem problematic in some way. Your comments or critique should be straightforward and constructive. Whether you think the writer's ideas are brilliant or impenetrable, write the kind of critique that you'd want to receive yourself. Good critique could lead to a useful dialogue or collaboration between you and person whose work you read.

Feel free to bring in readings and experiences of your own to these responses, in addition to any other books or works that come up in class.


  • Participation & Attendance: 30%
  • Pair assignment: 15%
  • Midterm: 15%
  • Final: 20%
  • Journal & response: 20%

Participation & Attendance

Showing up on time, engaging in the class discussion, and offering advice and critique on other projects in the class are a major part of your grade. Please be present and prompt. Late attendance affects your grade adversely. If you're going to be late or absent, please email me in advance. If you have an emergency, please let me know as soon as possible after the fact.

Please turn in assignments on time as well. For every week an assignment is late, it loses a letter grade, e.g. 1 week late means a maximum possible grade of A-, 2 weeks is a maximum B+, and so forth.


Laptop use is fine if you are using your laptop to present in class, or if we're in the middle of an exercise that makes use of it. Otherwise, however, please keep your laptop closed. The quality of the class depends in large part on the quality of your attention and active participation, so chat live with your classmates in an old-school, oral way.


For the first half of the class, we'll be working with an embedded net co-processor called the Cobox Micro, or the more recent equivalent, the Xport. Details for connecting it to a microprocessor are on my site. Symmetry Electronics sells these, and will offer a student discount price of $67, or $62.50 if you buy as a group. Xports are $49.00. Contact Jennifer Padula at Symmetry.

Phone (508) 393-9006
fax (508) 393-7913

300 W. Main St.
Northboro MA 01532

If you find a better price, please let me know.

You'll also need a microcontroller, and the basic parts for physical computing projects, depending on what you decide to build.

You may use other net processors if you prefer, as long as you can meet the requirements of the assignments. All of my examples will be shown on the Cobox or Xport, however. Check with me in advance if you plan to use another platform.

Books & Reference

I keep a section of my online notes for articles and links dedicated to networked objects. You may find it useful to browse when you're looking for techniques, ideas, or background material. There are also a number of useful technical links under the embedded network section of my resources blog.

Most of the texts I'll be referring to in this class will be in the form of online articles, papers, etc. Links will be posted on my articles page.

A couple of recommended (not required) books for general inspiration related to the class. Feel free to use these in your journal responses too:

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Howard Rheingold. Perseus Publishing; ISBN 0-7832-0608-3; ©2002

Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, Duncan J. Watts. W.W. Norton & Company; ©2003. ISBN: 0393041425 - a nice introduction to the science of networks, with a good bit of focus on the social angle.

The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Lawrence Lessig. Vintage Books: ISBN 0-375-72644-6 ©2001
An excellent examination of the clash between the open-ended architecture of the early internet and the property-centric legal system in the US. Lessig puts forth the idea of the internet as an "innovation commons", and explains how current attempts to extend copyright and tighten intellectual property law threaten that commons.

The Victorian Internet : the remarkable story of the telegraph and the nineteenth century's on-line pioneers Tom Standage ©1999 Walker and Co. ISBN 0425171698.
A well-told story about the beginnings of telecommunications. Great inspiration if you're interested in networks.

The Social Life of Information John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid ©2002 Harvard Business School Press; ISBN: 1578517087; 1st edition.
This book looks at the effects of the "information revolution", and the blinders caused by seeing every problem as one to be solved by more information, or better access to information. The authors argue that information and information design seen out of context lead to blind alleys.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell. Little Brown & Company; ISBN: 0316316962; © 2000

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs. Vintage Books; ISBN: 067974195X; © 1961, Reissue edition 1992

A longer list of books for inspiration and reference is available online at the books link.