Overview

Introduction

The NETLab Toolkit is a system for tangible interaction sketching and production. It enables novices and experts to quickly integrate hardware, media and interactive behaviors for products, installations, and research. It integrates with micro-controllers including the Arduino, and through its Flash widgets provides a drag-and-drop environment for hardware and media sketching with no programming required.

Working in the familiar environment of Flash, and now the web browser, designers can hook up a physical sensor like a knob and immediately get that knob to make a motor turn or scrub a video projection – you can literally make a project work in 5 minutes. The toolkit works with a wide range of sensors, wireless systems like the XBee and Wii Remote, controls motors and LEDs, communicates with MIDI devices, controls sound, graphics, and video in Flash, and communicates with DMX computer controlled lighting equipment, all with a simple drag-and-drop interface (of course, programming hooks are provided as well).

Watch the video below to see how it works.

Three Parts: Flash Widgets, Hub, MediaControl

The Toolkit is currently composed of 3 parts:

  • Flash Widgets: A set of drag and drop components for Flash that perform common functions such as getting a value from a sensor, playing a video, making a sound, and controlling a motor. These widgets are graphical objects that can be simply configured and don’t require any programming, making it easy to get a project running quickly and easily. The widgets also include hooks so more complex projects can use ActionScript code.
  • Hub: A server that knows how to talk to Arduino, Make Controller, XBee, DMX, MIDI, and OSC (including the Wii controller via OSCulator). Any application can communicate with the Hub through the sockets protocol. While NLTK supports an interface via the Flash widgets, we also have an example of Processing talking to the Hub. In the future, we hope to provide a set of widgets that work on other platforms like Processing, iPhone/Android, etc.
  • MediaControl: An application that works with the Hub by receiving OSC commands and then forwarding those commands to MIDI and DMX devices such as computer controlled lighting. Can be used stand-alone.

Philosophy

The NETLab Toolkit project strives to open up new possibilities for design and hardware sketching that previously required a long technical learning curve or collaborations with technical people. By focusing on ease of use, quick initial success, and productivity NLTK allows more time to be spent on design concepts, iteration and refinement.

While recent developments in hardware (such the Arduino microcontroller) have made interactive objects and spaces easier to build, there remains a barrier in learning the development environments and software coding practices. For many designers, the Arduino environment, Processing language, Flash ActionScript or MAX/MSP can be difficult to learn and take time and focus away from the design process. The NETLab Toolkit to removes this barrier and provides an easy entry point for designers in this dynamic new field known as “Tangible Interaction” or “Physical Computing”. While making many projects simple to create, The NETLab Toolkit does not inhibit the deeper technical engagement that’s often needed when projects become more complex. Open interfaces are provided that make programming not only possible, but easier than usual, since many of the underly details are handled by NLTK and the designer can focus on the programming logic.

Video Demo

The following video demonstrates the NLTK used with the Arduino and a knob. In it, the knob moves a graphic on the screen.


Last modified September 16th, 2012