Low Tech Sensors and Actuators (2004)

Research and PDF manual for hacking inexpensive sensors & actuators

Low Tech Sensors and Actuators for Artists and Architects was a research project and publication by Usman Haque and Adam Somlai-Fischer, sponsored and commissioned by the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, UK.

The final report and instruction manual are available at lowtech.propositions.org.uk.

Download the Low Tech Sensors & Actuators for Artists and Architects manual here.

Low Tech Sensors & Actuators for Artists and Architects cover

We developed a suite of low-tech sensors and actuators using electronic children's toys and gadgets that can be hacked for their constituent parts. In this way, artists and architects can quickly and cheaply develop interactive spaces and objects. The outcome of the project was an instruction manual of sorts, a manifesto for low-tech, a conceptual framework for complex interactive systems.

IR toys as proximity sensors, cats as interfaces, torches as power sources, walkie talkies as wireless networks - artists and architects who want to experiment with concepts of interactive spaces and responsive systems, particularly on large, urban-scale projects, are often prevented from doing so because of the complexity, logistics or costs involved with such systems. Prototype research seems prohibitively expensive and the most interesting concepts and approaches remain on the drafting board until a suitable client/investor/sponsor is found. Alternative channels for financing and development need to be found; a solution is at the heart of open source architecture - the combination of reusability and "low-tech".

Low Tech Sensors & Actuators for Artists and Architects postcard

New media artists and architects don't necessarily need the precision and accuracy that scientists usually do in order to explore the poetries of interaction. They therefore often do not require such sophisticated equipment in order to develop truly interesting interactive projects. They work well with the "making-the-best-of-what-we-have" approach, using artifacts at hand, and are comfortable with the idea of "hacking" existing technology (in the sense of taking it apart to understand how it works and putting it back together again, usually with improvements). In this way, it is possible to design interfaces, sensors, bio-feedback devices and actuators all using relatively simple technology that might even already exist in people's homes. In particular, inexpensive remote control toys are these days ripe for dismantling and reworking; kids walkie-talkies can be used to set up a simple wireless network; energy source for a simple interactive device could be generated from the movements and footsteps of people within a space.

Low Tech handout, Japan

One way to pursue this line of work is to develop a suite of low-tech sensors and interactive actuators that can be produced inexpensively from off-the-shelf toys and devices. These "hacked" devices can form part of a "kit-of-parts" that new media artists and interactive architects could use for their interactive design projects. The results of this research and design will be available online.

Low Tech postcard, Japan