Human-Computer Interaction Institute Thesis Proposal

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  • SAI SWAMINATHAN
  • Ph.D. Student
  • Human-Computer Interaction Institute
  • Carnegie Mellon University
Thesis Proposals

Interactive Computational Materials for the Built Environment

My inspiration is the promise and allure of ubiquitous computing. Unfortunately, this vision is not entirely realized due to our traditional view on how computing devices are manufactured today. To date, the focus of device manufacturing has been on miniaturization and packing the most functionality into the smallest form factors, even though our built environments are much larger in scale. Miniaturized devices need to be deployed in massive quantities to enable interactivity in the built environment scale (buildings, sidewalks, etc.), leading to unsustainable power consumption as the many devices require numerous batteries.

If computers are to be omnipresent and disappearing, they should be better integrated into our built environments, where we spend most (87%) of our time. We need to explore built environment form factors (interactive devices made in structural forms like walls, tables, facades, etc.) and materials of various kinds (such as extreme mechanical strength) that make up the built environments. There remain several challenges related to form factor, power, sensing, actuation, and digital device manufacturing in the built environment scale. This thesis introduces "computational building materials" to address these issues, wherein engineered materials enable low-power, material-integrated sensing and actuation in devices manufactured at built environment form factors.  

In my research so far, I have developed four systems that demonstrate the concept of computational building materials: (1) Optistructures introduces a method for fabricating interactive room-scale structures like walls, tables, furniture, etc., made with common building materials like concrete, plaster. The fabricated structures support interactive functions, like displays, with room-scale sensing without any local power. They have their primary power source located remotely at long distances (~70km) (2) Fiberwire demonstrates the engineering of carbon-fiber composite structural materials with inherent sensing and circuit capability. This system enables the fabrication of mechanically robust objects that can remain interactive while bearing large impact forces (~4000 lbs) (3) Interactive deployable structures showcase a method for fabricating interactive built environment constructions like geodesic domes, tables, and canopies. These structures can self-deploy and provide inherent actuation and sensing capabilities engineered within materials. (4) NavTiles uncover insights from the field about developing and deploying multi-modal tactile guidance surfaces. They contribute an understanding of how computational building materials can support application areas like accessibility.

To complete my dissertation work, I plan to develop two more systems: (1) Kinetic energy paper harvesters (KEPH) proposes a paper device that enables long-range, battery-free wireless sensing in the built environment (2) Self-powered paper actuators (SPPA)  will be responsive to interactive input. Taken together these systems help us re-imagine the creation of next-generation ubicomp devices that are power savvy, deployable at large scales, and deeply integrated into the built environment.

Thesis Committee:
Scott E. Hudson (Chair)
Lining Yao
Mayank Goel (HCII/ISR)
Gregory Abowd (Northeastern University)
Haeyoung Noh (Stanford University)

Additional Information

Zoom Participation. See announcement.

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