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TEDYouth 2011

Leah Buechley: How to "sketch" with electronics

November 19, 2011

Designing electronics is generally cumbersome and expensive -- or was, until Leah Buechley and her team at MIT developed tools to treat electronics just like paper and pen. In this talk from TEDYouth 2011, Buechley shows some of her charming designs, like a paper piano you can sketch and then play.

Leah Buechley - Designer
Leah Buechley is an MIT electronics designer who mixes high and low tech to create smart and playful results. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Today, I'm going to talk to you about sketching electronics.
00:16
I'm, among several other things, an electrical engineer,
00:20
and that means that I spend a good amount of time
00:25
designing and building new pieces of technology,
00:29
and more specifically designing and building electronics.
00:33
And what I've found is that the process of designing
00:38
and building electronics is problematic in all sorts of ways.
00:42
So it's a really slow process, it's really expensive,
00:48
and the outcome of that process,
00:53
namely electronic circuit boards,
00:55
are limited in all sorts of kind of interesting ways.
00:58
So they're really small, generally, they're square
01:01
and flat and hard, and frankly, most of them
01:04
just aren't very attractive, and so my team and I
01:09
have been thinking of ways to really change and mix up
01:13
the process and the outcome of designing electronics.
01:17
And so what if you could design and build electronics
01:22
like this? So what if you could do it extremely quickly,
01:26
extremely inexpensively, and maybe more interestingly,
01:30
really fluidly and expressively and even improvisationally?
01:35
Wouldn't that be so cool, and that wouldn't that open up
01:41
all sorts of new possibilities?
01:44
I'm going to share with you two projects that are
01:46
investigations along these lines, and we'll start with this one.
01:50
(Video) Magnetic electronic pieces and ferrous paper.
01:55
A conductive pen from the Lewis lab at UIUC.
02:00
Sticker templates.
02:04
Speed x 4.
02:07
Making a switch.
02:25
Music: DJ Shadow.
02:37
Adding some intelligence with a microcontroller.
02:55
Sketching an interface.
03:12
(Music)
03:19
(Laughter)
03:28
(Applause)
03:33
Pretty cool, huh? We think so.
03:38
So now that we developed these tools
03:41
and found these materials that let us do these things,
03:45
we started to realize that, essentially, anything
03:49
that we can do with paper, anything that we can do
03:53
with a piece of paper and a pen
03:55
we can now do with electronics.
03:58
So the next project that I want to show you is kind of a
04:00
deeper exploration of that possibility.
04:03
And I'll kind of let it speak for itself.
04:06
(Music)
04:10
(Applause)
05:40
So the next step for us in this process
05:46
is now to find a way to let all of you
05:51
build things like this,
05:54
and so the way that we're approaching that is by
05:57
teaching workshops to people where we explain
06:00
how they can use these kinds of tools, and then also
06:03
working to get the tools and the materials and techniques
06:06
out into the real world in a variety of ways.
06:10
And so sometime soon, you'll be able to play and build
06:14
and sketch with electronics in this fundamentally new way.
06:17
So thank you very much. (Applause)
06:21
Translator:Joseph Geni
Reviewer:Thu-Huong Ha

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Leah Buechley - Designer
Leah Buechley is an MIT electronics designer who mixes high and low tech to create smart and playful results.

Why you should listen

Electronics aren't just for experts and engineers. Kids and amateurs should be able to play, too, which is why Leah Buechley designs little paper-based electronics for "sketching" and interactive electronic fashion for tinkering. Buechley designs and creates electronic textiles, or e-textiles, like this jacket that can signal which way you're turning on your bike. She's an assistant professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, where she also directs the High-Low Tech research group.

The original video is available on TED.com
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