Final Project: Ecosystem

tl;dr; Brief: Working in groups of 4/5, realize a future vision for a 'technology enhanced studio' where internet appliances enhance the learning experiences of tomorrow.

Final Project: Interactive Ecosystem

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About this Project

Over the past couple of weeks, you’ve been introduced to the world of connected systems and the Internet of Things. We’ve explored in-situ sensing and using data from the Internet to create ‘enchanted objects’. We’ve looked at how these objects can enhance not just daily routines but human-to-human connections. We’ve seen how ambient information can make data present in physical spaces and give subtle cues to action or nudges towards behavior change. You’ve been introduced to design methods for IoT applications and network centered design. You’ve read about disruptive innovation and reconsidering known spaces to design innovative products. We’ve also looked at the challenges and considerations in realizing internet appliances with multiple interacting stakeholders, needs and within complex service maps. phew and we’re only 5 weeks in…

Exploring IoT Ecosystems

The goal of this project is to bring many of the strands together, in a grounded real-world problem space and which fully explores the potential and nature of connectedness.

The focus will be on ‘ecosystems’ of interacting internet appliances. Previously, we’ve only considered a single device in isolation, now we’re going to consider how several different devices can work together to solve a shared problem and create value.

What does an ‘ecosystem’ of IoT devices mean? Let’s use the analogy of cooking. To make a meal, we don’t just use one ‘thing’; we use a series of ‘things’ together. To cook our dinner, we need our fridge to store and keep the food fresh, a knife to chop, and cutting board to prepare on, a tin opener, a sauce pan, an oven, etc. All of these things work together to help us achieve the overall goal. Each of them as a specific function within the overall task. The same is true of the Internet of Things; real-world problems are complex, and often require a series of complementary devices or interacting systems that work with one another to achieve the desired outcome.

To do this, we’re going to consider a problem space where there are many moving parts: many stakeholders, many users, many data sources and many potential services (think back to Week 5’s discussion.)

The challenge for you, in designing solutions for this space, is that it will be very familiar. This makes it harder; these spaces are loaded with expectations (see Week 3 + 4 readings.) They come with all sorts of built-in assumptions. We have well established notions of how they should and do work. This makes it hard to see new possibilities or alternative approaches. So, the goal won’t simply be to design a series of connected products for problem space, but to find ways to innovate through a network-centered approach.

To help with this, we’re not going to try to realize solutions for now, but we’re moving the horizon to 5 years out. This frames the project as speculative and should make it a little easier to imagine new, strange and/and unfamiliar solutions (see Week 6 readings.)

The good news, is that we a little over two weeks for the project. This gives us time for review, discussion, refinement and iteration. Something that we haven’t had room for in previous projects!

What is this problem space? Glad you asked…

Context and Problem Space

New technology creates many opportunities for institutions, educators and students to enhance the educational experience. Online and mobile platforms like iTunes U, Blackboard, Wikis, forums, MOOCs, Piaza, and collaboration tools like Google Drive increase access, mobility and collaborative potential for students. Classrooms contain all sorts of devices to enhance the delivery of materials: controlled lighting, laser pointers, projectors, sound systems, and teleconferencing. ID cards, RFID, and electronic locks, control access to spaces, avoiding liability and protecting Institutional investments. 3D printers and other digital fabrication technologies enable new rapid prototyping and work practices for student exploration.

Similarly, connected systems and the Internet of Things has the potential to create new opportunities for enhanced learning and, particularly within studio-based learning.

This is a question that CMU is actively asking, and the foundation for your exploration: how do we enhance the studio-based learning experience through new technologies?

As part of this exploration, you’ll use your studio at Craig Street as a site of self-exploration and as a test-bed for demonstrating creative solutions.

Learning goals

This investigation is designed to develop knowledge of how to design for the internet of things. As part of this exercise, you will:

  • Be able to critically reflect on the role of connected products in everyday settings
  • Be able to design and make interactive objects that integrate sensing, actuation, software and networking
  • Be able to integrate considerations across business, design and engineering to prepare connected products
  • Be able to generate a visionary proposal that explores networking as a design opportunity.
  • Be able to articulate the future possibilities and potential directions for the field

Detailed Brief

Drawing on your own experiences on the CMU campus in interdisciplinary studios like 311 Craig Street, this project asks you to imagine the future of studio-based learning on the CMU campus.

You are to imagine a scenario that could feasibly exist in 3-5 years time. This should include a vision for an ecosystem of interacting connected products. This ecosystem would enhance the learning or collaborative experience through the Internet of Things

In support of this vision, you are asked to develop a working prototype that illustrates this concept.

In addition this prototype must meaningfully connect to two or more prototypes prepared by other teams by sharing data with them or responding to their events. This networked cooperative behavior should support a learner.

Technology enhanced studio-based learning is an active strand of interdisciplinary research at CMU. Specifically, within a NSF funded project, we are actively working to explore the development of new technology to support student-centered learning. This project is not only an opportunity for you explore a real-world multifaceted design challenge for the Internet of Things, but doubles as an opportunity for you to engage with and contribute to this research agenda (see the end of this document).

The manner in which you approach this is up to you, but you are strongly encouraged to consider innovative rather than conventional solutions!

Keep in mind that learning does not necessarily “teaching”, there can be formal and informal learning

Collaboration and Organization

You’ll work in teams of 4 (potentially 5). Within each group you should assign the following roles:

  • Vision: - coordination the project’s longer-term vision; prepare vision and concept documentation.
  • Developer - responsible for the technical implementation (code, circuits, functionality)
  • Designer - responsible for the visual design, form, interaction, and experience
  • Networker - responsible for documentation of process; coordinate with liasions on other groups to develop connectivity between prototypes; communicate the development of the prototype.

Organization, roles and the distribution of effort throughout the process should be noted in outcome documentation.

Approach, Methods and Process

Full details on each of these steps are provided below as part of the deliverables. But in briefly, we’ll do the following:

You’ll start by getting familiar with the design context: you’ll engage in auto-ethnography, reflect on your studio experiences, you’ll highlight pain points, collaboratively brainstorm as a class, and identify a set of precedent projects to inform your approach. You’ll do this as an entire class so you’ve got a shared understanding of the problem space and a set of shared resources for this exploration.

Next, you’ll try and step back from obvious problems and low hanging fruit to uncover meaningful solutions to shared problems. This is the most challenging step as you’re designing for a context that’s intimately known and deeply familiar. You’ll approach brainstorming and conceptualization as a process of defamilization to help highlight assumptions and overcome design biases.

You’ll prepare a concept proposal. You’ll also articulate what you plan to build to demonstrate your idea and prepare a lit of needed technical resources (components, etc.)

Using this concept prosposal, we’ll develop a network model for each device so you can brainstorm with other groups how they can leverage the data or functionality it provides.

You’ll then implement a very rough cut of the device to allow teams to integrate and test their networked interactions.

You’ll refine your proposal and prototype and demonstrate it to a group of internal and external experts. Using this feedback you’ll develop

Schedule, Deliverables and Deadlines

Pay close attention - there’s a lot of stuff happening in the next few weeks!

Due Date Deliverable Details
Tues, Feb 19 Planning Post a list of team members
Thurs, Feb 21 Familiarize Space Mark Up: Post up pain-points in the studio
Thurs, Feb 21 Familiarize Reflection: Share a reflection on opportunities
Thurs, Feb 21 Familiarize Discovery: Post one precedent to #projects
Thurs, Feb 21 In Class What Ifs: Annotate the space with possibilities for intervention
Sun, Feb 24 Defamiliarize Conceptualization: Conduct a forced-brainstorming exercise to explore possible solutions. Develop
Monday, Feb 25 Defamiliarize Review and give feedback to your peers concepts. Iterate as needed.
Tues, Feb 26 Concept Presentation: Present your concept and proposed prototype in class
Tues, Feb 26 Concept Technical Needs: Post a list of hardware purchases by end-of-class.
Tues, Feb 26 In-Class Network Model: Advertise the functionality and responses of your device.
Thur, Feb 28 Prototype Rough Cut: Develop and present a rough cut in class.
Tues, Mar 5 Prototype Practice Pitch: Rehersal and feedback session for the final review
Thur, Mar 7 Final Pres. Demonstratation: Show your final prototype and present a conceptual design for the future studio
Fri, Mar 8 Documentation Documentation: Final documentation due by midnight

You are asked to deliver the following:

  • A vision: a conceptual introduction to how you envision you future studio device working and the way in which your connected solution that will enhance the quality of experience for students. This should be realized as a short 2 minute (max) video.
  • Working prototype: prepare a proof-of-concept prototype that illustrates the proposal at an early stage implementation. Each prototype will be demo’ed during the final class.
  • Presentation & demonstration of outcomes: Present their design scenario and prototypes in a 5 minute final presentation and demonstration of the ecosystem.
  • Outcome documentation: Prepare written documentation of the solution (goal, vision, design process, prototyped solutions, viability of the solutions, next steps, reflection on success, etc.). Maintain a record of and illustrate your work process, rationale and design decisions.

Research Participation

The final project for this course is strongly related to and is part of a large on-campus research project. This ongoing strand of research project explores the design, development and evaluation smart makerspace and learning studios to enhance the quality of experience for students.

As students enrolled in a course on the Internet of Things we would like to invite you to contribute to this research by co-designing solutions for intelligent learning environments. The final project will double as an extended participatory design exploration.

If you choose to participate the designs you prepare and participation in this final project will form part of this broader research. Participation requires no more involvement than the normal final project expectations; we will simply ask to you prepare and document conceptual designs and interactive prototypes as normal.

The documentation, ideas and feedback will be later analyzed for research themes and perceived needs.

Participation in this research is completely voluntary. To take part you must be at least 18 years of age and you will be expected to work collaborative with one another in-class and out-of class for approximately 12 hours per week (4 hours in class, 8 hours out of class). There is no cost to participation and all needed materials will be supplied.

As we want to use the outcomes as part of research your project documentation, may be used in academic publications. No personal or identifiable information will be revealed and all presented content will be anonymised.

Participation in the research is completed as part of the course skills survey (see canvas). If you would like to adjust your participation, please contact us or use the post-course survey.

Participation (or non-participation) does not, in any way, affect your grade. The list of participating students will not be reviewed until after grades have been submitted. You are also free to change your mind on participation at any time.


Below is a list of additional online material that relates to the module and provides a starting point for your explorations. This is by no means exhaustive i.e. you should read/research beyond it.

Products and Prototypes

Consumer Products

Hacks, Explorations and Prototypes


“…we live in a world of increased complexity, in which digital data, everyday objects, and social practices are increasingly connected and interdependent. In a world of increasing complexity, designing digital technologies that facilitate meaningful interactions and integrate elegantly in our everyday lives requires an understanding of how to design for commensurability—that is, making our ability to connect across networks commensurate with our current practices in the physical world. Designing the connected everyday is fundamentally about making things commensurate as much as it is about making them smart.”

Future Concepts

Designing Learning Environments

Food For Thought

So has anyone stopped to consider if collaboration is all it’s cracked up to be? Or that the innovation/disruption/creativity it’s supposed to give birth to might be a little harder to “program” (in architect’s parlance) than many had assumed?

WeWork’s latest acquisition is a small software company with 24 employees. Euclid is a spatial analytics platform…. Euclid does this by tracking how people move around physical spaces. Their technology can track how many people showed up to a meeting or to that after-work happy hour. They can see where employees tend to congregate and for how long. It’s all done over Wi-Fi.

This is a set of principles that we think a vendor — a connected product manufacturer, team or founder — would use to make a good, secure, ethical, product that also takes into account the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But also to push beyond the GDPR and look at the entire life cycle of a smart device. From manufacture, to final disposal.