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What Is Physical Computing?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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Physical computing is a strategy that aids in the process of understanding how human beings make use of computer-generated communications, with attention given to the way those same individuals choose to express themselves physically. The general idea behind physical computing is that unlike robotics, which seeks to create some sort of autonomous machine that can be programmed for certain tasks and then left to work unassisted, computer hardware and software can be utilized as a means of corresponding with the physical movements and uses of the human body, effectively leaving the human brain and body as essential components of the process. To this end, the development of programs with user interfaces that allow humans to use hand movements, voice commands, and even movements of the eyes to control what the computer does next is a key function of this type of computing approach.

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One way to understand the basics of physical computing is to consider a program that uses voice recognition to create a word processing document. With the right software application, an individual can verbally command the system to open a blank document, instruct that dictation will commence, and then proceed to dictate the text that is captured on the document. Changes to the text can be made by way of verbal command, and the document can even be named and saved without the need to touch a keyboard. For people with limited mobility, this type of application could allow them to enjoy computer use in a variety of ways, including the creation of various types of documents or even making use of an Internet browser.

With physical computing, the involvement of the physical movements of the human operator can go beyond simply using a keyboard to manage what is happening on the screen. Different applications can aid in the creation of digital art forms, construct virtual realities that the individual can then walk through and interact with others in the reality with the use of sensors carefully placed at strategic points on the body. In addition to being a valuable tool for medical evaluations or aiding in the management of a number of business tasks, physical computing of this type can also be used for entertainment purposes.

The scope of physical computing continues to expand as technology makes it possible to create and utilize programming that is increasingly comprehensive. As the processes involved in physical computing become more advanced, the chances of creating new applications for the interface between humans and computer systems also increase. This in turn means that this type of computing may be used for additional types of research that result in the development of new products, greater understandings into the body and mind, and also provide forms of entertainment that are not readily available.

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