Teaching Team

Paul Mirel, MICA Engineer in Residence

Alan Grover, MICA Arts Engineer

Vic Ekanem, MICA Engineer

Workshop Overview

How do we know we have been touched? How can we communicate that sense of touch to someone who is physically distant from us?

We need a touch-sensitive input, some sort of signaling, and a way to get information from one place to another.

We will use the Circuit Playground Express from Adafruit Industries in New York, USA. (Note: The Circuit Playground Bluefruit will also work for this purpose. It is capable of wireless bluetooth connections, so the devices can be untethered from their host computer.)

The connection will be made in a full-duplex mode. The device in use by person A will take touch input from them, and show encoded touch signals from person B. The device in use by person B will take touch input from them, and show encoded touch signals from person A.

The Circuit Playground Express can sense touch by capacitance loading detection at 8 locations on the board. We will group those into four touch sensitive areas, and also read the temperature of the board, for a total of five touch-related inputs. The working language is CircuitPython, a dialect of the Python programming language.

We will show those five inputs on the local device. Lights located near the touch sensitive points will illuminate when there is the presence of touch. Temperature will be encoded in the color of the illumination.
We will also report those five inputs along the USB serial link, and across the internet, using IoT (Internet of Things) protocols.

The telepresent partner will receive those five inputs, which will show on the distant device in the four lights closest to the connectors.

Each person will see their own touch input next to their telepresent partner’s touch input, in the position and color of the lights.


  • The two unused lights may be used to express the extent of harmony between the inputs of the two telepresent partners.
  • The telepresence data may be graphically displayed using an animation program (eg: processing‚Äč). Multiple users may contribute touch data to drive an animation.
  • The Circuit Playground Express can make audio output, using an on-board amplifier and speaker. It can play tones, and it can also play audio files in the .WAV format. These tones or audio files can be used to signal the touch input from the telepresent partner, or to signal some measure of harmony between the partners.
  • The Circuit Playground Express also senses the ambient light level. This information can be included in the telepresence data, and can be used to indicate an enveloping hug, as the light level decreases with that sort of input.
  • The Circuit Playground Express also has a microphone. Ambient sound level will decrease during an enveloping hug.
  • The Circuit Playground Express has a multiaxis accelerometer. Orientation, as well as movement or stillness can be encoded and transmitted.