REMOTE CONTROL Interaction Design Project
By: Sara Sallam
Course: Interaction Design, Spring 2011

We often make unintentional gestures to express our emotions. What if we created a world that answers to our unconscious desires!


In this project, I am designing an interactive device that takes benefit of a gesture we subconsciously do and transforms it into a design solution that answers the emotions we're expressing. My gesture focus is the hand movement expressing the feeling of a hot warm weather, trying to produce air with ones hand. This gesture was natively communicated long time ago into a paper fan. this movement of the paper fan is to be transformed into a trigger for an electric fan.

First IPO approach:
The motion of the paper fan is to be captured by the use of sensors (detecting acceleration) and translated to control an electrical fan.

Keywords: gestures, control, hands and fan.


May 04 Concept Development
May 11 Meeting / Components gathering
May 18 Realization
May 25 Testing
June 01 Aesthetic Appearance
June 08 - Discussion & Feedback
June 15 - Final Presentation

  1. Introduction

  1. Concepts / Design drafts
  2. Implementation
  3. Pretest
  4. Discussion


Gestures... they are strongly related to meaning. We are always assigning meanings to objects around us. Our perception of the world is never objective, each has his/her own background, experience and culture from which things get their meanings.

J.J.Gibson introduced the term 'affordance' that refers to the relationships that exist between us and the world we live in. Donald Norman noted that affordances reflect the possible relationships among us actors and objects.

In other words, the objects we create have affordances that we assign to them, affordances that they really have and others that we perceive that they might have. If one would really think about this statement, it's getting clearer and clearer how our perception and reaction is closely interwoven.

Looking closely at how technology is evolving, I would say there's a great focus on 'teaching' us new meanings than relying on the ones we already perceive subconsciously. Lately, things are compact and hidden from our perception. More or less, buttons, switches and sliders control almost everything that surrounds us. There's no longer a clear relation between what one does and what one gets.

Remote controls... they could trigger the sound system, the curtains, the garage door or may be even airplanes! But what is the relation really between what we press and what we get... we don't know, it's hidden. How can we assign meanings to objects that perform arbitrary actions!

May be there's a way, that combines the new technology and links between our actions and reactions. A way that makes us more aware of the great amount of meanings we assigned to our world. My project is to reflect upon this point, trying to bridge our perception of objects, making use of their affordances, and linking what we get to what we do.


My first thoughts about the topic, I wanted to define a place where I want an interaction to happen. I wrote down in my brainstorming scribbles 'an interactive device that could be used in ones living room'. Then I started to develop the interaction characteristics trying to find a suitable gesture that communicates a certain need.

Keywords: movements - gestures - waving - washing - circles - being cold - feeling hot...using a paper fan.

My First Concept:
The gesture of feeling hot, moving one's hand is transparent with the use of a paper fan, that acts as a remote control for the AC. My idea was to create a more clearer link between the output we get which is air from the AC, to the input that we make which is moving the paper fan. Thinking about this model of interaction, I noted that the AC is a form of compact and hidden technology, where the 'wind making' is hidden from the actors and that made me reconsider the relation between the action and reaction of the actor and his perception of the relationship between him and the object.

My Final Concept:
So based on the previous note, I decided to make the actor control with his action of moving the paper fan, an actual fan where the motion of the blades providing air is still visible communicating the affordance of the object and its purpose.


note: the wiimote is to be the handle of the paper fan.

Technical Description:

  • The Wiimote connected via Bluetooth will provide an acceleration number to the computer, representing the amount of movement in the Z direction.
  • The Computer will translate the motion into numbers and divide them using Max5.
  • The Arduino Diecimilia, connected by a USB cable, will be programmed to gets input of 3 different ranges of numbers, each range sends current of 5 volts DC from a specified OUT pin on the board.
  • Three 5 volt Reed Relays are connected to the three OUT pins of the board, switching the 5 volt DC voltage to the 3 different wires connected to the buttons of the electrical fan.

STEP 01: Wiimote to Max5

STEP 02: Accleration to Arduino

STEP 03: Arduino Circuit

The 220 volt AC current connecting the electric fan to power, is passing through a 'Trans 9volt', reducing the amount of voltage passing through a 'Bridge' that switches into DC current that is finally regulated to 5volts by a 'Regulator'. These 5 voltage are powering the relay coil that substituted the reed relay in the first sketch.

The 'Ground' of the regulator is connected to the Ground Pin on Arduino as well as the 'emitter' pin of a transistor. The 'base' pin of the transistor is connected to a 'resistance' and a 'diode' (that prevents current feedback to the micro-controller' and finally connected to the Arduino Digital Out Pin.

The 'Collector' pin of the transistor is connected to one side of the relay's coil and the other side of the relay coil is connected to the live of the regulator.

Lastly, the live pin of the relay is connected to the live of the electric fan. The switch pin of the relay is finally connected to one of the speed buttons of the electric fan, and thus closing the circuit.

STEP 04: Three Speed Controls



Now that everything is working, the test proved success of the circuit, the concept technicalities and setting. Therefore, now I am reconsidering the interaction itself between the user, his action and the feedback that he's getting.
I read in "Physical Computing" a book by "Dan O'Sullivan and Tom Igoe", that it's important to design conversations that make sense between people and their devices. During a conversation, person A speaks, person B is listening, person A finishes his statement, person B formulates his opinion, while person A is waiting then person B speaks..etc

Of course, we're not robots. this cycle is very quick, sometimes skipped and some other times we speak at the same time. However, if we are dealing with a technical device, our conversation is a bit different, knowing that there is always a percentage of error in devices and that it's designed and programmed by another person.

For instance, if we're trying to move our car left, and we're rotating the wheel to the extreem left, yet the car isn't moving at the same instance. We might think there's something wrong with the vehicle or we most probably make an accident. This delay is communicating inefficiency, in other words "the car isn't listening properly". the conversation is not going fluently.

In this context, small design decisions make big differences. a few seconds delay could mean the device is not working, a sudden feedback in another device could result in an unexpected unwanted result.

I've been thinking whether my interactive remote control, shall be working exactly with the motion of the user, or as an actual remote control, where the user chooses a state of speed then enjoys the choice he's made for a while. This decision is very much related to the purpose of the device. Am I providing a new experience where the user is in full control of the electric fan, hence a world that is remotely controlled through his actions. Or am I providing a new way of conversation with devices where the user makes an order and the device listens and gives feedback...

To answer my previous questions and thoughts, I've discussed the project with a variety of people. Ofcourse the majority agreed that it doesn't make sense for them to always move their hand to have the fan rotating, which was expected, yet almost all of them were interested in having full control of the electric fan.

After a discussion with Bernd Dudzik, he suggested an implementation of "modes", where both options exist in the electric fan, whether you want to 'be the controller' or 'have a controller'.
I've been thinking, whether this is possible or not, in relation with the concept.

I figured that in order to make such an implementation, another gesture has to manifest itself. In other words, the gesture that am dealing with always conveys progress in motion and speed. Observation on the gesture reveals that it doesn't communicate the statement "I stop motion now, yet keep getting feedback". It's a direct action/reaction experience with no delay - you move your hand, you get air.


The previous discussion indicates that in order to have this interactive device as a functional device for home use, the gesture, that I chose to deal with in this project, has to be incorporated with another gesture that communicates the choice that the user made.

As this observation only came from trying the device out, and exploring the interaction closely in such a new conversation, there's not enough time to incorporate a second gesture that also suits the main concept of the project.

Further implementation and exploration of interaction is needed in order to have this device sold in stores!
As it's very important that the second gesture also make sense in relation with the feedback that it communicates. "The relation between what we do, and what we get", that's the main focus and one of the interesting concepts in interaction design that make use of object's real affordances as well as their perceived ones.

As for technical development of the project, the circuit could have included different parts, depending on the design and of course on the research that I conducted before searching for the components. However, it would have been different and might be more beneficial the output was dynamic. In other words, if I manipulated the motor speed, building up a different circuit, then the interaction would be more fluent than a three stages switch.

However, this project provides background knowledge on how to start from scratch in the field. And may be for sure if me, as a designer, had more knowledge in physical computing, the process would have faster and much more effective.

And in the limitations section, I want to highlight:

"Where there's a will, there's a way" - English Proverb