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The Ottoman

Shy Seating

This piece of interactive furniture was created for my physical computing class in grad school. Using Arduino sensors and actuators, along with code that we built from scratch, my team made this fun and interactive ottoman.

We were interested in further exploring the situation where a piece of furniture acts differently with different groups of people, but has a special connection to the owner which only shows up when they are home alone.


Kelsey Aschenbeck

Initial Idea

The ottoman contains lights which shine when only one person is in the room. The design included a digital people counter which would keep track of the number of people in the room and when the number was one, the ottoman would "reveal its true nature" and the rest of the time it would be a simple footrest. 


Number of people in the room

We were able to create a laser/photoresistor line which could tell if people entered a room. We made 2 of these, to determine if someone is leaving or entering a room. If the value of the photoresistor suddenly decreases, it means that someone is in front of it and depending on their direction, the counter will either add or subtract a number of people from the room. Our aim for this was to create a product that would only light up when 1 person is in the room.


How many people enter the room.


Small laser pointed at photoresistor to measure when people walk into the room - a DIY "triplight"


LED strip lights


Affectionate behavior

When the person in the room pets the furniture, it changes color. We liked the idea of having multiple sections on the furniture which react differently to petting, and if you pet for different amounts of time, the furniture reacts differently, so we created multiple capacitive sensors and added total time to our code. It was exciting to figure out how to keep track of sensed time and change actuation based on this input!


Petting the fur of the ottoman.


Capacitive touch sensor. Build from scratch with foil.


LED strip lights

Circuitry Sketches

Much of the initial focus of the physical computing class was teaching us how to understand circuitry with the goal of creating our own product from scratch. My partner and I are both visual people, so it helped for us to sketch our ideas, and below is our process of thinking about and planning the ottoman. As you can see, the sketches get more detailed (and also more accurate) as we began to fully understand the science behind electronics. 

Building the Ottoman

We purchased an ottoman from Goodwill, which we planned on adding lights to and reupholstering. Most of our time during this stage was spent in the Mill soldering. Our finished product has 51 LEDs, and each light has 6 soldering joints, so we successfully soldered over 300 times! We definitely got pretty good at it by the end of the project. We bought a 100 pack of LEDs, so we have extras and both of us want to use them in the future to create some other fun product.

Solder + Glue Technique

We soldered all of the lights together into a long snakelike chain. As we were transporting the line around, some of the wires between the plastic and the solder joint got frayed and it would break or short circuit. This was a big problem, but we found a solution in hot glue! If we glued over the back and sides of the LEDs after we soldered them, there would be a protective layer which would prevent breakage. 

Final Details

Next, we connected the string of lights to the actual furniture. Once the lights were attached, we began experimenting with the Neopixel code to see what patterns and colors we looked best on the ottoman. We attached the capacitive sensors and connected the different codes to the sensors so that they would elicit different reactions. The final step was to cover the furniture in fur!

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