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2 Material Parameters

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A DIY resistive ribbon sensor


Tactile and multi-handed user-interfaces are a fascinating and active topic of research. Resistive ribbons are an easy and affordable way to get in touch with this topic. We explain how a resistive ribbon sensor can be constructed, how it works, and how it can be deployed.
Recommended prior knowledge

Elementary electric circuits
Ohm’s law
Kirchoff’s laws
Basic electronic circuit diagram conventions
Simple electric measurements
Basic soldering
This paper is targeted at people that have had a little exposure to electronics before, are experimenting with pure-data, max/msp/jitter, or other stuff, and want to build a physical/tangible user interface based on arduino, CV-to-midi box, or any other rebadged or factory badged microcontroller.
Ribbon sensor

A resistive ribbon sensor is constructed as a stack of tapes and adhesives. One layer has resistive properties. Another layer (separated from the resistive layer by an air-gap) is a conductor. Pushing on the ribbon will create conductive contact between the resistive strip and the conductive strip.

When one finger pushes the ribbon, the ribbon can be compared to a potentiometer. At rest, the resistive strip makes no contact.

Construction materials

This is the list of materials needed to construct this ribbon:
Adhesive copper tape, 12.7mm wide: Available from electronic parts distributors, I used Chomerics CCH-18-101-0050
Double-sided adhesive tape, 19mm wide
PVC (electrical) tape, 19mm wide
Resistive (8mm video) tape: Not all videotape has resistive properties, and not both sides are resistive. Test it with a multimeter. My tape measures about 15 kiloOhm/square (so a strip of 80mm long measures 150kOhm between the ends). All kind of tapes stand a chance to be resistive. But audiocassette tape is a bit small. VHS, 8mm, or audio reel-to-reel tape are better candidates.
Transparency sheet or plastic document sleeve
Plastic enclosure: to contain the electronics (Arduino or something else), and as rigid base for the ribbon sensor.

The resistive tape is pushed against the copper tape by the finger pressure. At the ends of the resistive tape, two terminals are attached.
Step 1: Place copper foil on top of the box

It can be folded around to the inner side of the enclosure to provide connection without running a wire from inside the enclosure to outside.

Step 2: Cut and place spacer

I used adhesive PVC electrical tape as spacer. The purpose of the spacer is to create a gap between the resistive tape and the copper tape when there is no pressure on the ribbon sensor. Other sorts of tape can work too, but it needs to be thicker than standard office tape to make a reliable gap. PVC tape is a bit difficult too cut since it distorts easily. Sticking it on a piece of adhesive-protection-tape (like found on double-sided tape) makes it easier to manipulate, and it is easy to peel it off. The width of the slot I cut out is 6mm, a bit less than the width of the resistive tape.

Step 3: Placing the end-terminals

Adhesive copper tape serves this purpose nicely. I cut 4mm wide strips out of the tape. The adhesive side goes on the spacer and enclosure. The resistive tape will make contact with these pieces of tape without adhesive.

Step 4: Build and place the top part

To give the resistive tape strength, it is sandwiched by the use of double-sided sticky tape to a stronger but flexible plastic. This is build in top-down order. I cut a 19mm wide strip out of a transparent document sleeve. This is fully covered with the double-sided sticky tape. And on top of that the resistive tape is mounted – resistive side up (exposed). This assembly can now be sticked on the enclosure.

Almost ready…

Step 5: Cover exposed copper

It is a good idea to cover all exposed copper tape with some other non-conductive tape. Otherwise, touching exposed copper tape will inject unwanted noise.

Here’s an exploded view of the ribbon sensor construction:

First tests

Measure the resistance between the two end terminals. This is expected to read out a constant resistance if the sensor is not touched.
Measure the resistance between one end terminal and the bottom copper strip. If not touched this expected to be a open circuit (infinite resistance). If this is not working out, use a stiffer plastic for the top layer or a thicker spacer material. Maybe sandwich two layers of tape for the spacer.

When the sensor is touched, different resistances can be measured between the bottom copper strip and the end-terminals, depending on the place where you touch it.


Remember Poullet’s law? Resistance of a bar of a certain resistive material is proportional to length, and inverse proportional to area of its section. So, double the length (keeping all other things the same) and the resistance doubles too. Double the width of a tape, and the resistance halves. So for a tape (constant thickness) every square shape, large or small, has the same resistance – depending on the thickness and material of the resistor.

Simple, bad version


VDD is positive supply voltage (5V on an arduino, 3.3V on some others)
GND is ground
Here is a schematic view of the ribbon sensor:

Let’s call the total resistance of the resistive tape RT. Using the ribbon sensor as a pure resistive divider is tempting:

Hey it’s just like a regular potentiometer:

The conductive strip serves as a tap point. The voltage on this tap point will vary proportionally (linear) depending on the location of touch point. But when the ribbon sensor is touched at both ends, it almost short circuits the supply. And when the ribbon is not touched, the tap point is floating:

Better, multi-touch version

Grounding the conductive strip, and adding external resistors (R1 and R1) to the 2 end-terminals of the sensor allows to read more information from the sensor:
At rest the end-terminals are pulled to supply voltage by the two external resistors:

So both OutA as OutA will measure VDD (supply voltage) in this case.
When touched at one spot there are two independent resistive dividers formed.

Or unfolded schematic:

The resistive divider that makes up the voltage of OutA consists of R1 and RA. The value of RA is linear proportional to the distance of the touch point to the left side of the ribbon sensor. We can equate the voltage on OutA to:
And similar for OutB:
Remark that the relation between RA and VOutA is non-linear.

When the ribbon is touched on two places, the same equations are still valid. But the sum of RA and RB is no longer the total resistance of the resistive tape:


Adding a finger in between the previous two touches does not affect the situation electrically:

Resistors between two points at the same voltage (here: ground to ground) do not do anything.

So now we have a ribbon sensor in a circuit where we can measure a voltage that depends solely on the leftmost and the rightmost contactpoint.


We need to obtain the relation from measured voltage at VOutA or VOutB to RA or RB.
VOutA * (R1 + RA) = VDD * RA
VOutA * R1 + VOutA * RA = VDD * RA
VOutA * R1 = VDD * RA – VOutA * RA
VOutA * R1 = (VDD – VOutA) * RA
VOutA * R1 / (VDD – VOutA) = RA
RA = VOutA * R1 / (VDD – VOutA)
Likewise for VOutB:
RB = VOutB * R2 / (VDD – VOutB)

What value do we take for R1 and R2 ?

There is no reason to take different values for R1 and R2, that would break symmetry.
The maximal voltage we can find on outA is when the ribbon is actuated at the rightmost position, meaning RA = RT. This voltage should not be too low, since the A/D converter measures the range from 0V (GND) to 5V (VDD) (VDD could also be a different voltage but that does not make any difference) is divided in, say, 1024 steps (for a 10-bit Analog-to-Digital converter). If the maximum voltage on outA is only 5% of VDD, we can measure only 51 different steps. This keeps us from using a very large resistance for R1 and R2.
On the other side, if we take a very small resistance for R1 and R2, half of the voltage travel will occur in a small zone of the ribbon near the terminals.

If both distances add up to the total length of the ribbon, we know that there is only one touchpoint. However this is not completely correct: a single touchpoint will have a non-zero width. But an acceptable threshold can be found to separate the two touchpoints situation from one touchpoint situation.

Pure data

Lets assume that you have your ribbon sensor connected to pure data via some kind of interface (arduino, wisebox, roll your own …). The ground of the interface is connected to the conductive strip, the two ends of the resistive strip both connected to an analoge-to-digital conversion input and a resistor to the supply voltage. You are getting the data into pure-data, how exactly depends on the type of interface used. Better resolution than 7bit MIDI is strongly recommended.

Linearize voltage to distance

Now, let’s patch the conversion from voltage to linear distance. Remember this equation derived above:

RA = VOutA * R1 / (VDD – VOutA)

Let’s forget the standard units (ohms, volts), we can do that if we use the same ‘new’ unit everywhere. Lets express voltage in Analog-to-Digital conversion units (1023 units is 5V for arduino).

RA = VOutA * R1 / (1023 – VOutA)

R1 is constant. If we use the expression [expr $f1 / (1023 – $f1)] we obtain a value that is proportional to RA. And remember RA is proportional to the length of the corresponding piece of resistive tape. If untouched, outA is at VDD, so this expression will give 1023 / (1023 – 1023)! A division by zero occurs… It’s wide to prevent this from happening. Using the expression [expr $f1 / (1023.1 – $f1)] will give a small error when touched, and a very large but finite value (10230) when untouched.

The same expression can be used for the other side. But this time the zero point is on the other side of the ribbon.

Identifying the situation

It’s usefull to detect the different situations: no touch, single point, dual point. When the results of both expressions are added, these three cases can easily be separated:
no touch: very large value (20460?)
single touch: total length of the sensor (independent from where it is touched) minus a tiny bit.
dual touch: below the total length of the sensor (independent from where it is touched).
Patching this up is left as an exercise for the reader, as well as expanding it with gesture recognition 🙂

Similar constructions can be made in Max or other environments, but remind that you should suffix all numbers here with a point, otherwise Max will do integer (whole numbers) math, giving undesired rounding effects.

Now you can start exploring connecting the outputs to sound.

Small excercise: connect the leftmost touchpoint distance to the frequency of a square-wave oscillator, and the rightmost distance to the cutoff of a resonant low-pass filter. Mute the oscillator when there is no touch. The filter will now always be tuned at or above the fundamental frequency of the squarewave – there is nothing to filter below the fundamental anyway. Now you can play filter-swept ribbon-theremin. Maybe quantize the pitch to a nice scale. Use a few buttons to select different scales. A new no-guitar hero is born!

Ideas for future work

Make a small 2D resistive touchpad from one inch wide tape (used on music studio multitrack reel-to-reel recorders, studio video tape, and probably also old computer storage)
Use a custom PCB as base material instead of sticking copper tape on a plastic enclosure. It’d better be gold-finished than the rusty tin finish you get standard nowadays though. Useful for a multi-ribbon controller device, maybe with USB + microcontroller on the backside…
Add some sort of relief to the top layer, to add some tactile features. Could be a guitar string taped on the top-side to guide your finger in the dark.
Some way to give it a snap-action feel? Beveling the top-layer?

R. Koehly, D. Curtil, M. Wanderley, Paper FSRs and Latex/Fabric Traction Sensors: Methods for the Development of Home-Made Touch Sensors Proceedings of the 2006 International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME06), Paris, France
Ribbon Controller

Comments, suggestions? Mail to johannes (dot) taelman (at) gmail (dot) com.

online tools test case:: audio and video streaming code31, and arjen keesmaat

During the second workshop within the framework of Code31’s xmedk online research,
we’ll present a two day crash course in audio and video streaming.
What does it take to send a live video stream from your desktop to the whole world:

We’ll learn how to configure a streaming server, take a look at different kinds of broadcasters.
Deal with the technicalities: Which protocols to use? What is the difference between udp en tcp?
What is with all these codecs?

We’ll start low level but in a further stage, dive deeper into the technicalities of streaming :
How to configure your network and deal with protocols.
How your video imagery gets compressed to those coded bits and bytes.

The people at are giving us an introduction in getting your streams out in the open,
reliably streaming to the bigger public.

:: partcipants ::

The workshop is free and open for anyone.
If you’re interested in participating, send an email with short bio
and motivation to ef4db at

:: non-physical ::

This workshop is a testcase for the Code31 online research, so
those who can’t make it to the workshop can follow online, details
will be provided on the code31 site;

We will provide a live video stream and a moderated chat channel.

We’re looking for participants who want to join and also evaluate
the setup ! So, if you’re interested, point your fingers to

:: about Arjen Keesmaat ::

Arjen is an interaction designer and media artist, graduated at the Utrecht School of Arts (The Netherlands),
faculty of Art, Media and Technology, now active developing media-installations, from in concept to realisation.

Former collaborator at in the Sensing Presence – (KeyWorx, Connected/Anatomic) and the Creative
Learning (ScratchWorx) departments, conducting workshops, technical realisation and development.

:: location ::

OKNO — Koolmijnenkaai 30/34 — 1080 Brussels — Belgium
metro: Graaf van Vlaanderen/Comte de Flandre — Tram18
dates/data: saturday 31/03 — sunday 01/04 from 10am till 5pm
Free coffee, tea and soft drinks.

With the support of / met de steun van / het VAF (Vlaams
Audiovisueel Fonds)
the .x-med-k. workshop series is a collaboration between okno, nadine
and foam.


Onsite: Koolmijnenkaai Quai des Charbonnages 30-34, B-1080 Brussels

FoAM is a laboratory for the propagation of lived and living experience. We are looking for processes, moments and situations in which experience can be freed from cultural, economic or historical biases, allowing participants to absorb fresh stimuli. We work on a plethora of transdisciplinary experiments with emerging cultures and technologies.

FoAM’s collaborators spend most of their time in the murky spaces between the physical and digital, scientific and artistic, natural and technological worlds. We inhabit these spaces to research and develop responsive environments, active materials, generative media, culinary performances and other entangled forms of contemporary creative expression. Guided by our motto “grow your own worlds”, artists and scientists work in colourful teams, scavenging far and wide for relevant scientific, technological and social innovations, fusing them into seeds for imaginary, yet tangible worlds and planting them in the cracks of everyday life.

Where we came from and where we’re headed

FoAM originated in the minds of its founders in the late 1990s. As practicing artists and technologists scattered around Europe and Australasia, we found the need for an entity that could mediate between the artistic and the scientific worlds, between (rogue) individuals and (more or less) established institutions. In early 2000, a private research institute in Brussels offered us the opportunity to investigate the feasibility of such an operation. We set up FoAM as a cultural department within Starlab NV, the institute where a peculiar brew of sciences, humanities and design disciplines were deployed in the research of Bits, Atoms, Neurons and Genes (BANG). In 2001, FoAM became an independent association in Brussels. In 2002 a new cell was opened in Amsterdam. With the core team of five artists and technologists, together with a network of approximately thirty partners, we operate on the cusp of research, development, presentation and reflection of contemporary creative practices. Since 2004 FoAM has positioned itself as the only Flemish ‘Hybrid Reality Lab’, with a primary focus on the field of hybrid reality (technologies, media and materials entangling the physical and the digital).

The organisational structure of FoAM is networked: we operate as cells with several partner organisations, associated artists and scientists, distributed around the globe. We are a small and flexible initiative with many international contacts, able to fill the gap between larger (scientific and cultural) research institutions and individual artists (or artist collectives). This structure allows us to realise larger projects, while keeping the flexibility of a small artist-lead initiative. We consciously decided not to grow into a sedentary institution, but to focus on establishing sustainable (and adaptive) relationships with a growing network of partners. This type of structure has conditioned our extensive experience with setting up and implementing interdisciplinary collaborative methods, as well as coordinating remote teamwork through CSCW/CSCD tools. Our aim is to foster transdisciplinary research in the field of hybrid reality, through long term initiatives, international co-productions, thematic study-groups, as well as through documentation of our work in publications. In order to open our research to a variety of audiences, we continually explore new public contexts for our various fields of inquiry, which generally abide in between disciplinary boundaries.

Our activities are grouped in 5 main thematic fields: macroReal (Reality), metaReal (Consciousness), multiReal (Community), microReal (Substance) and zeroReal (Life). The results of our projects usually encompass more than one category, and if truly successful, all of them. Most of the work and play at FoAM is process oriented, engaged in a continuous dialogue about the consequences of our present actions. Throughout all our activities we work towards harmonising the relationship between ecological, cultural and technological developments. Rather than creating yet another series of over-designed, unnecessary ‘cultural’ artifacts, we have committed ourselves to consciously develop and deploy the arts, sciences and technologies for the wellbeing of a prospective world.

“… active exhalations work together, not to bring about some hypothetical fusion of individual beings, but to collectively inflate the same bubble, thousands of rainbow-tingled bubbles, provisional universes, shared worlds of significations.”
Pierre Lvy

What is FoAM?

foundation of active morphing
formulaic osmotic application misplacement
foundation of aesthetic machinery
formal osmotic adaptive music
foundation of augmented media
fluctuation of adaptive morphology
foundation of aperiodic mesmerism
fluid organic advancement magnetics
focus of adaptive magnetism
foundation of aesthetic mutation
foundation of affordable melting
further osmotic aperiodic mobiles
fertiliser of aperiodic mesmerism
fluid of applied melting
further organic aperiodic misplacement
fungus on applicable marmalade
further osmotic application merging
foundation of affordable mysticism
other: f___ o____ a___ m____

Online workshops research

In the online tools workshop, OKNO and Code31 research and develop a number of small tools that can be used for teaching workshops and collaborating over the internet or local networks.

We have tested our findings in two test cases and evaluated a number of applications, some of which are listed and commented in the “online workshop tools and methods” node in the menu on the right.


about okno
OKNO is a Belgian non-profit cultural organization, officially recognized and supported by the Ministry of Culture. The organization functions as a platform for several real and virtual organizations that work within the area of technological arts in the broadest sense.
In 2006-07 OKNO will be organizing a number of exhibitions, conferences, workshops, and performances. The themes are mainly: code and algorithms, communication systems, ecological and technological art. The presentations are experimental, and basically demonstrate a process-driven or research approach within the domains of technological art and culture.

The main collaborating organizations for the moment are:
– code31 (permanent workshops and realization of projects, server management including streaming infrastructure)
– (research and development, connected performances, installations)
– so-on (installations and performances, production and presentation of technological art)

OKNO supports artists that research, develop and create innovative forms of cultural production in the field of technology and media arts. It presents the processes and results of this research to a broad and diverse audience through a programme of interactive installations, experimental concerts, performances, workshops, and lectures.

OKNO intends to be a physical and online meeting place for established and young artists, a platform for the development of collaborations and partnerships. The collaborative building of knowledge and its transmission is at the core of all projects. They all focus on employing and deriving present and future technologies in a new and surprising way. The connection between art and science, between analogue and digital media is explored in a continuous way.

OKNO wants to encourage and initiate the participation of an artistically engaged audience, facilitating dialogue with current forms of artistic practice. Therefore, we offer a virtual and physical public forum for artistic reflection on technologically inspired media arts, and we promote a critical view on the cultural and aesthetic influences of media technologies.

OKNO was a motor for the 2004-05 educational collaboration project XMEDK. This was a workshop series organized by 3 important art centres and labs in Brussels: nadine, FOAM and OKNO. For two years they set up a successful educational experiment, providing a working alternative for the lack of a dedicated postgraduate institution for art and technology in Brussels/Belgium. Currently we are expanding it to other interested cultural organizations in the area.

OKNO has an active interaction between international and local setups, and positions itself as a junction in an international research and presentation network for new media art. With national and international partners we are working towards the presentation of international projects through connected online collaboration tools such as live streaming and other digital media techniques.
There is a strong affiliation with Central and Eastern European like-minded organizations.
During the last years a part of our mobility programme was invested in inviting and sending out affiliated artists within the context of workshops, festivals and conferences. For this purpose an international residency has also been organized since 2006.

about the collaborating organizations

OKNO is an administrative umbrella for the collaborator between three sub-organizations that have been active in the new media arts field for years, both in Belgium and internationally.

1. CODE31 organizes regular open workshops attracting local and international artists, programmers, and engineers. These meetings make up the breeding ground for technological arts projects for which international connections are of utmost importance. Code31 is responsible for creation and development within OKNO.
2. MXHZ has for years been active in non-conformist projects involving artbots, networked and audiovisual performances, publications, and presentations. It is an open virtual organization doing research within an international, productive, artistic network. Within OKNO, takes care of research and international networking.
3. SO-ON is a collective composed of artists, curators, and theoreticians. Since 1998, the organization has built up an international reputation in the sectors of production and presentation of interactive installations, performances and lectures relating to innovation and new media in a visual arts context. In recent years the focus has shifted towards network projects and sound art. Within OKNO, So-on takes care of the production and presentation of projects, publicity, and communication.


Nadine is een transdisciplinair laboratorium voor hedendaagse kunstenaars: een ruimte waar vernieuwend podiumwerk gecreerd, ondersteund en getoond kan worden. nadine wil op continue wijze vernieuwende en dus ook vaak experimentele en risicovolle projecten, die een degelijke omkadering nodig hebben, ondersteunen. Door de ontwikkeling van een eigen methodologie voor artistiek onderzoek, en de uitdrukkelijke aandacht voor het artistieke proces, wil nadine de hedendaagse productiepraktijk van de artistieke sector in vraag stellen, en samen met de kunstenaars zoeken naar een open en flexibele structuur, die de interne vraagstelling koppelt aan een ruime externe communicatie.

Wind Turbines

Context : Wind Turbines

Okno has planned the deployement of autonomous wireless nodes into the city, and needed some means to feed them in energy. We installed solar pannel in the previous month, and to complete a sustainable hybrid system for our tests, we planned this little workshop for building wind turbine from scratch.

Wind power is cheaper and easier to obtain and transform into electricity with low tech systems than solar photovoltaic pannels. we decided to research some of the simplest dezigns existing, in order to produce easely reproductible windmills by any person in a small workplace. We used DIY attitude as well as recycled materials.

Actually, it exist already a vivid movement of DIY windmills builders, and some have put visible and usefull information on the internet for other to follow. We did our own research, with the help of bartaku, and made a selection of dezign we wanted to test and blend, regarding blade form and generator assembly, in relation with the easely obtainable materials we could have.

startegy and realisations

The strategy was to build multiple models of windturbines, in order to test efficiency and solidity.
We used offset print aluminium sheets and wood.
basicaly, it was derivatives of vertical axis “Savonius” type, 3 where build simple with 2 blades and small bearings, 1 was build using bicycle wheels with 3 blades (“african style”), one was build on the classical windmills toy dezign (the one often seen at sea border in colourful plastics). (see photos)

The savonius ones revealed the most efficient, and the most easy to build (as we thought).

On the last day, we began to build the generator parts from scratch with nuts and bolts, isolated copper wires and neodymium magnets.
This last part has still to be finished, as a wave of colds decimated our ranks during the workshop.

video streaming

when streaming video, it can be quite hard to find a good balance between quality and a good connection. sometimes you are also confronted with bottlenecks by international connections.
video streaming seems most effective in workshops that do not concern software.

tools to check out:

quicktime broadcaster (propietary)
darwin streaming server
wirecast (not free in any way)
for max and pd users there are also several objects such as jit.qt.broadcast, see the usual repositories.

we did a workshop on this specifically:

about .x-med-k.

.x-med-k. is a series of workshops and seminars investigating the changing faces of the fleeting field of ‘experimental media arts’. From 2004 to 2008, three Brussels based organisations (FoAM, nadine, OKNO) joined forces to design and implement this heterogeneous series, for artists, designers and technologists interested in the experimental use of digital media, new materials and technologies.

.x-med-k. is envisioned as an alternative educational programme, where artists, designers and technologists from all walks of life could learn from each other. We began by teaching the basics of ‘making-your-own’ techno-artistic materials and instruments in tutorials and hands-on workshops; gradually we introduced more advanced master classes, that introduced more participatory learning methods, to encourage sharing of knowledge and experience with diverse tools and media. Once you have your work posted on the x-med-k website, you can unwind by playing casino games at Research, experimentation, production, collaboration, presentation, dissemination and reflection; all of these activities became elements of a colourful puzzle of .x-med-k. We discussed wider economic, environmental, social and political implications of our works. We forged new projects, performed and socialised together, gathering a critical mass of people around topics close to our hearts.

The final series of .x-med-k. workshops started in 2007 and ended in 2008, featuring:

Fabbing and Tech-Nouveau by FoAM
Physical Computing and Hive Networks by OKNO
Max / PD, HD Techniques / Chroma-keying and Performative Surveillance by Nadine
Media Ecologies by FoAM, nadine & OKNO

Supported by the Flemish Audiovisual Fund (VAF)

© 2017 x-med-k

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