Syllabus-Sensitive Buildings-2011

Print This Page Print This Page

Sensitive Buildings

Fall 2011

NYU, Tisch School of the Arts

Interactive Telecommunications Program


Instructor: Rob Faludi

[email protected]


Course Description:

This is a class is about creating smart habitats for city dwellers. Students will conceive and construct large scale sensor networks that benefit the tenants of a 28-story, 325-unit landmark apartment building on Central Park South in Manhattan. The high-rise owner has invited ITP to develop a variety of prototypes to enhance the livability, ecology and community of their apartment building. Students will learn to use the latest in ZigBee wireless technology to design, build and deploy interactive sensor network systems, with broad access to this landmark pre-war apartment complex. We’ll start hands-on, by teaching everything you need to know about wireless networking while developing potential project ideas. During the first part of the class we’ll tour the building to learn about its infrastructure, inhabitants and context. Next, we’ll create fast prototypes that explore design possibilities, installing these proof-of-concepts on site and observing the real-world results. Finally we’ll take what we’ve learned into final projects that have the potential to be deployed at scale, and considered for sponsorship.

This 1939 building’s recent renovation has it sporting a lower-level green roof, various upgrades for energy efficiency and a historically restored facade. It has been described as, “state-of-the-art green architecture before the term was coined,” in fact the building’s motto is “Where The Park is Part of the Plan.” Our class will be provided with access to unoccupied units, and current residents may also participate. The owners will maintain carefully supervised access to building infrastructure from roof to basement including ventilation, plumbing, heating, elevator and energy systems. Students get an extraordinary chance to deliver big benefits for residents as they develop sensor and actuator networks on a towering scale.


Students will learn technical skills in wireless networking, programming and serial communication. They will gain experience in a real-world networking environment and think deeply about location-specific work. Assigned projects will explore wireless networking, input-output, building systems and interaction design.

Class Schedule:

  1. Intro, overview, basics and background: class introduction, student introductions, overview & syllabus review, about buildings, about ZigBee, buying an XBee, buying an adaptor, terminal programs, addressing.
    Assignments: Imagining Sensitive Buildings; purchase supplies, pick a PAN ID.
  2. Imagining Sensitive Buildings Presentations: presentation of assignments with discussion and introduction to buildings
    Assignments: read Building Wireless Sensor Networks, Chapter 1
  3. XBee Configuration: PAN ID assignment, firmware updates, basic configuration, pair exercise and Q&A with property manager
    Assignments: pairs exercises, read BWSN, Chapter 2
  4. ZigBee Arduino: exercise review, math for mesh, firmware updates, ZigBee and Arduino, breakout board hookups, doorbell exercises
    Assignment: doorbell assignments, read BWSN, Chapter 3
  5. Input/Output: exercise review, I/O Mode, I/O demo, API mode overview, API basics, I/O asssignment.
    Assignment: romantic lighting sensors, second site visit, resident interviews, read BWSN, Chapter 4
  6. Sensor Networks: assignment review, API for I/O mode, API for remote AT commands, types of networks, simple sensor network, Guest Lecture: Digi Solutions Architect.
    Assignment: Simple Sensor Network, read BWSN, Chapter 5
  7. End Devices, Sleep and Actuation: sensor network workshop, collaboration, sleep mode, end devices, direct actuation. Guest speaker, Merica Jensen (heliostat)
    Assignment: Final project ideation (100 ideas), read BWSN, Chapter 6
  8. Review Project Ideas: presentations and discussion of final project ideation, reduce ideas to candidate projects
    Assignment: Form Final Project groups
  9. XBee Internet Gateway: overview of gateways, basic ConnectPort, easy connections to the Internet and presentation from a Residential Architect.
    Assignment: First prototypes for final project, read BWSN, Chapter 7
  10. Site Visit: Try out prototypes on-site.
    Assignment: Final Project iteration
  11. Production Workshop: with technical reviews, green buildings guest speaker (Ioannis “John” Kymissis and Marshall Cox, smart radiators).
    Assignment: Final Project redeployment
  12. Site Visit: Try out prototypes on-site.
    Assignment: Final Project completion
  13. Production Workshop: with technical reviews,
  14. Final Presentations


Observation:  This observation assignment is designed to open your mind. You will discover the multitude of ways that a space is used by listing the behaviors that you see. Then you will record the prevalence of each behavior type, to understand their relative import. Finally, you will use this information as a thinking tool, to propose new projects that address what you’ve unmasked. The goal is to fill in your cartoonish mental schema of a place with the richness of what actually happens there, and by filling in the missing parts to discover something new.

Doorbell Projects: Working in pairs, create a basic doorbell using ZigBee and Arduino, enhance this doorbell with roundtrip feedback so the visitor knows that the buzzer has rung. Next, create a doorbell with a nap mode with a silent alert for regular visitors but an eventual wakeup for insistent visitors. Finally, create an advanced doorbell of your choosing, perhaps one that only responds to a secret code, one with a history feature, one that sends an SMS or Tweets, one that provides a text display, or anything else that builds a better doorbell. Use this assignment as an opportunity to get comfortable with round-trip communications, and to think about enhancing practical interactions.

Simple Sensor Network: Using ZB XBees we will create a mesh networks that covers a large areas including the boards, enclosures, mountings and documentation. The end result will be a robust infrastructure that anyone could understand, use and extend. Each student will take on an area of responsibility to collaborate on making this network.

Final Project: work in groups to create a building system or device of your choosing . Your creation should use multiple nodes to create a sensing network, display network or complex interaction. This is potentially a challenging assignment in a short period of time so consider what you know about collaboration. Work iteratively and keep moving forward.


  • links to documentation for each completed assignment must be provided for posting in the student work area
  • documentation is due within one week after completing each assignment

Building Access:

All students and instructors (Participants) are required to sign the liability waiver and provide it to the building management (CPSA). If a student is under 21, it must also be signed by a parent or guardian.

A list of Participant names will be provided to CPSA including emails and cell phone
numbers. These names will be kept by the package room, and all Participants will enter via the 58th St. ramp to the basement and sign in at the package room. They will be required to display picture ID at the package room. They are also required to leave the same way and sign out.

Tentatively access will be restricted to 1-4pm, Monday-Thursday. For access to any building system areas or any apartments or non-public roof areas, an appointment needs to be made at least 48 hrs in advance. It will be most helpful if students co-ordinate their access times to minimize impact on building staff. Appointment requests should be emailed to [email protected]. Three alternative times should be given, in order of preference. The locations to which access is desired should also be specified. If there are any special requirements for the access (for example, taking off a radiator cover or accessing pipes), this should be indicated.


ITP grades on a pass/fail basis. This class is weighted as follows:

Class participation & attendance 30%

Presentations and assignments 20%

Projects and documentation 30%

Final Project 20%

Office Hours

To Be Announced


Can be open during lectures but should be closed when your fellow students are speaking or presenting.

Making the Most of It:

For best results, come to class early, participate in discussions, ask lots of questions, offer copious and constructive feedback, stretch yourself and have fun.

Required Reading


ITP PAN ID list, register yours here.

Optional Reading



Math and Communication Protocols:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *