Student Design Challenge: Tangible Remote Controls

This year’s student design challenge is generously sponsored by Intel.

Important Dates

  • October 22, 2014, 11:59 pm PST: Entry submission deadline
  • November 22, 2014: Notification of Acceptance
  • December 5, 2014, 11:59 pm PST: Student Design Challenge team commitment and registration

The Challenge

The Internet of Things is curiously lacking in knobs and switches. Instead, it’s controlled by a collection of glass rectangles. Our hands do more than just touch and swipe, however. We have fingers that can feel, pinch, grip, turn, and point. They are attached to our arms, which act as levers to amplify the force we can exert with our hands. Our hands and arms are covered with nerve endings that give us intelligence about the world we live in that our eyes and ears can’t fully deliver. History is littered with tools we’ve designed to take full advantage of our hands. Even into the early electronic era, we have designed wonderfully informative tangible tools. Great tangible controls are not just input devices. They act as physical indicators of the state of a system that we read through our hands. The click of a switch gives us haptic feedback that the device has heard our commands. The arrangement of a row of sliders reads like a graph to our fingers. Good tangible interfaces are also well-coupled with the things they control, providing an immediate feedback loop. The feedback from a steering mechanism makes your body a part of the vehicle’s movement, encouraging you to rely on more than just your eyes and ears. touch Everyday appliances have grown some wonderful new features thanks to digital technologies. Home lighting is no longer just white light, nor need it be strictly turned on and off with a single switch. Lighting designers (and consumers) can now play with color, intensity, and time in their lamps. Yet tablet device interfaces lack the convenience and immediacy of the switch, particularly when you’re fumbling in the dark. How can you deliver on the promise of these new features, yet retain the convenience and tangible intelligence of the switch? This year’s design challenge is to imagine a digital present that takes full advantage of the capabilities of your hands and arms and delivers not only control, but also feedback about the system it controls. What the everyday tangible controls of our daily life for the 21st century. What’s the best tangible light switch for the Philips Hue? What’s the track selector on a Spotify jukebox? What controls give a media editor the ability to think through his work with his body, shifting pieces, clipping and extending with his hands and arms? Design so that your user can take full advantage of the capabilities of her hands, both operating and learning from touch, feel, and position. Use no sound, and no more than 64 pixels* in your final design. Imagine devices that that allow your user to keep her eyes and ears on the task, not on the controls. display * For the purposes of this challenge, a pixel could be one RGB LED, one point of differentiatable haptic sensation, one square of fuzzy buzzing material, etc. The goal here isn’t to make a controller for up to 64 lights. The thing being controlled could be lights, but could also be anything else.

Thanks to the following Flickr users for allowing us to use their photos: Tom Igoe, photo of Adim Marom, Crank; Blogging Dagger, Science Express 115; Marcin Chady, Bridge, Russian submarine

To submit

Mail PDFs and URLs for media content to

More Information

If you have further questions about the Student Design Challenge for TEI 2015, see the Design Challenge FAQ, or contact the Student Design Challenge Chair Tom Igoe at

Per the Contest Rules, the Entrants(s) will not hold the Sponsor and Administrator (and any other applicable parties) harmless from claims of damages: Intel, TEI, or ACM.