If you could invent anything, what would you invent? It’s an easy question when you’re a kid, but as you get older, it gets increasingly hard. You become less imaginative, and you add more constraints on yourself. It should follow the laws of physics. It should be possible given my skill sets. It should be reasonably cost effective. The list goes on.

Consequently, I originally had trouble thinking of ideas for my final physical computing project. I decided to brainstorm through a number of different lenses– constraints can occasionally help sharpen and inspire ideas. I first thought of “what projects might come up if I am inspired by my other classes?” Visual language and applications did not inspire very much– a real life colour eyedropper would be neat– but big games and fandom were a little more fruitful. I thought of projects that might help women in particular, and looked at dream inventions of women online: most tech entrepreneurs are men, so I suspected this would be an underserved market. Finally, I considered projects that might be of use in my personal life, which is surprisingly in need of little. I’ll list my rejected ideas below, as well as my top three choices.

Rejected Ideas


I had a number of ideas inspired by Harry Potter, a fandom I was obsessed with in high school– magic lends itself well to physical computing projects. I considered making real life versions of a number of things: a pensieve, a memory collector that would work out similarly to Rebecca Liebermann’s memory project; living portraits, an apparently common idea according to Tom Igoe’s blog posts; an invisibility cloak, a camera-heavy project that would likely be extremely costly and not terribly original; or a Marauder’s map, which is essentially in all our pockets with our GPS-enabled phones.

Other ideas inspired by fandom were to create holographic-like communication devices akin to Star Wars or to create the outfit selection tool used by Cher in Clueless. These seemed camera intense and not terribly feasible, however.

I also tried to think of projects inspired by gaming and my class big games, which was not entirely fruitful. Big games inherently involve a lot of people, and it’s often easier to use low tech solutions or leverage existing technologies everyone has. I did consider making a storytelling game– tag a few objects, and see how the story changes as you switch the objects in the story. I also considered making a Fitbit like tracker that used rpg paradigms to motivate the user.

Female-Inspired Projects

It wasn’t intentional, but all of the female oriented projects I came up with revolve around the beauty industry. I imagine that it’s easier to get funding for more practical female tech products– there are a lot of period tracking apps, for example. I considered creating a little nail polish printer, for those who are as incompetent at nail art as I am. I considered tools to help you style your hair; holding tools up for he back of your head automatically. I considered mirror and lighting tools, and makeup projection mapping. None of them seemed like a great fit for me.

Projects for My Life

Finally, I considered a few projects that I might need in my life. Perhaps there could be a sensor for stains, that would tell you exactly how you should clean it to get rid of the stain. There could be a product that read barcodes and sensed vegetables, that suggested recipes based on what ingredients you have. One could develop an all in one gardening kit– a device that detects the perfect water, light, and nutrient levels for your plant, for people who lack green thumbs like I do. One could develop a digital pill box for people like me who are extremely forgetful– it should notify you if you forget, and instruct you on what to do if you accidentally skip a day of pills.

Top Three Choices

3. Colour scanners

I noticed that Adafruit had colour sensors in their store, and the possibilities of this are intriguing. On a very basic level, one could create a real life eyedropper for Photoshop and similar tools– scan a colour, and use it in your app.

Alternatively, one could use the colour for real life applications: one could mix together colours and create a pen to colour with or nail polish to go on your fingers.

2. Comeback machine

This was an idea, honestly, stolen from a women’s message board, but is honestly gender unspecific. I could create a little box or robot that you could insult, and it should do its best to come up with a come back. You would need speech recognition, but I think I can use the one from IBM Watson. It’s incredibly silly, but sounds like a lot of fun.

1. Real Life Sorting Hat

This is an idea inspired by my fandom class– I had been writing a fan fiction for Harry Potter for that class, so the idea was at the top of my mind. With each new school announced, the first thing at the top of fans’ minds is which house they would be sorted in. People love to fit in, and this would be great fun for kids and the young at heart.

Since we clearly can’t read minds, we could get the hat to ask the users questions to sort them. We can either use microphones or an accelerometer to answer yes or no questions with a nod or a head shake. Then the hat would use speakers to announce the results.

It’s a pretty simple project, but if the production values are high it can be fairly impressive.