Ubiquitous computing is creating new canvases and opportunities for creative ideas. This text, and the course for which it was written, is designed as a resource for those interested in applying embedded computation to their art. While this text will be primarily of interest to artists who wish to expand the scope of their practice, it also may serve as an introductory text to embedded systems for more traditional computer science and engineering students.

This text is laid out according to the following structure:

Chapter 0: Introduction

This first chapter serves to provide a guide for the rest of the manuscript. We provide an overview of the goals of the text, how this text can be used in a classroom setting, and a dependency chart to help readers select the most relevant chapters to their own work.

Section 1: Background

The background section contains two parts. First, Preliminaries, which is intended to bring the reader up to speed with a high level overview current embedded technologies. Second, Creativity, which is intended to give the reader a theoretical grounding in understanding what creativity means in the context of embedded systems.

The Preliminaries chapter gives readers context on current trends in embedded systems as they are applied to artistic creation. It is highly likely that over time this chapter will become less relevant with the introduction of new technologies. With this in mind, the reader should expect the material in the Preliminaries to lose relevance over a span of 5-15 years. If the reader is familiar with current trends in embedded systems, this chapter may be used instead as a reference. We will refer back to this chapter throughout the text to provide concrete examples of how creative designs may be implemented.

The Creativity chapter lays the framework to understand what it means to make a creative choice in designing an artistic embedded system.

Section 2: Modules

This section forms the core of this text and introduces, in a principled way, various designs of embedded systems. We introduce the concept of a ‘system configuration’ to guide the exploration of creative applications of embedded systems. Each module follows the same overall structure:

  1. System configuration

Each module starts with a description of the system configuration we will consider in the given module. In general, we give a visual graph representation of the system configuration, falling back to the formal textual description of the system only when clarification is needed.

  1. Example Application domains

After introducing the system configuration of the module, we explore some application domains of the configuration. By demonstrating application domains, we address through examples some of the common creative choices to be made, as well as some technical issues that often arise in this configuration. Concrete examples of work that artists have presented in this domain gives a better intuition for the type of systems that can be captured by the given system configuration. These examples serve two purposes - first, they should help inspire the reader’s own work and second, they provide a entry point to building a new creative embedded system. The reader may attempt to recreate the given example and in this process is likely to encounter technical issues that will help build expertise.

  1. Assignments

Finally, we provide an assignment for this module. Assignments will often fall into the same domain as the example application domains we have presented. In general, assignments leave most of the criteria undefined, but this is by design. One of the primary challenges in working the artistic technology space is handling a lack a specifications. The overarching goal of these assignments is to push the reader to become more comfortable working on concrete tasks (ie programming) in an inherently amorphous space (ie art).


The appendix provides detailed discussions of development and design issues likely to arise in the development of creative embedded systems. Each chapter of the appendix covers a technical issue that is highly dependent of the systems used in this text, as described in Preliminaries. With this in mind, the reader should expect the material in the appendix to lose relevance over a span of 3-5 years.