Microcontrollers as Material

With Sam Jacoby, Leah Buechley, Hannah Perner-Wilson, and Jie Qi.

We’ve developed a set of tools and techniques that make it easy to use microcontrollers as an art or craft material, embedding them directly into drawings or other artifacts. We use the ATtiny45 or ATtiny85 from Atmel, a small and cheap (~$3) microcontroller that can be glued directly to paper or other objects. We then construct circuits using conductive silver ink, dispensed from squeeze bottles with needle tips. This makes it possible to draw a circuit, adding lights, speakers, and other electronic components.

To support these practices, I developed a set of hardware and software tools to simplify the process of programming the ATtiny. These include the Tiny Programmer, a circuit for connecting an ATtiny to a computer, and the ATiny plugin for the Arduino software.

Publication

David A. Mellis, Sam Jacoby, Leah Buechley, Hannah Perner-Wilson, and Jie Qi. 2013. Microcontrollers as material: crafting circuits with paper, conductive ink, electronic components, and an "untoolkit". In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction (TEI '13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 83-90.

Tools

Tiny AVR Programmer

The commercial version of the Tiny Programmer, made by SparkFun Electronics. You can also buy the ATiny from SparkFun.

ATtiny Plugin for Arduino

The source code for the ATtiny plugin for Arduino (hosted by GitHub). See the accompanying tutorial.

Tutorials

Programming an ATtiny w/ Arduino 1.0

How to program the ATtiny microcontrollers using the Arduino software, an easy-to-use programming environment.

Using the Tiny Programmer

The Tiny Programmer is a circuit board designed specifically to make it easy to connect the ATtiny microcontroller to your computer so you can load code onto it.

Painted Traces

Hannah's tutorial on making a circuit using conductive ink (that can include your programmed ATtiny micontroller).

Microcontroller circuit with copper tape

Instructions for using copper tape (instead of conductive ink) to a make a circuit with the ATtiny.

The Fine Art of Electronics

Jie's tutorials on creating paper circuits with copper tape and a variety of electronic components.