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Thesis Defense - Elumeze

Ambient Programming
Computer Science PhD Candidate
11/15/2010
8:30am-10:30am

Our everyday experience is filled with a large variety of electronics that require customization and programming but are notoriously difficult and annoying to deal with: alarm clocks, DVD players, televisions, microwave ovens, digital watches, etc. They typically present us with inscrutable one- or two-button interfaces, and more often than not, frustrate us as we try to change some aspect of their functionality.

Increasingly powerful and tiny electronics are finding their way into clothing, accessories, toys, and everyday environments. There is a need to seriously consider how to improve the interaction, how we may sensibly program all these different types of devices, before we create another generation of computational artifacts that are also difficult to manage.

This dissertation presents several prototype systems that exemplify the goals and styles of a new type of programming -- ambient programming -- where one can use a variety of means to customize the behavior of a computational artifact. Consider a small car that can read the reflectance of the surface underneath it. Bits of program are written out as bar code on cards, and the car reads the instructions as it rolls over them. If it rolls over (and thus reads) a "turn left" instruction, it would turn and continue on its way. By creating a small set of distinct commands that the car can read and laying them out on the floor, one can in effect "write a program" on the floor of one's room. Consider also a pendant that changes colors over time; rather than program it in the traditional way by connecting it to a computer, the wearer simply "shows" it different colors from a piece of fabric for it to use in its program.

Ambient programming reconceives the practice of programming as (at least partially) informal, opportunistic, physically active, and playful; it also places a greater emphasis on the interweaving of abstract coding with tangible materials and construction.

Committee: Michael Eisenberg, Professor (Chair)
Mark Gross, Carnegie Mellon University
Clayton Lewis, Professor
Ben Kirshner, School of Education
Leysia Palen, Associate Professor
Department of Computer Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
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