Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


An Upcycled IoT: Creating Tomorrow's Internet of Things
Out of Today's Household Possessions

Kristin Williams

June 2022

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: Ssmart home, social objects, family collaboration, do-it-yourself, DIY, sustainability, IoT, internet-of-things, end-user programming, end user programming, personal inventories, attachment, intersectionality, paper computing, tangible interfaces, physical computing, interactive book, craft, stickers, RFID

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) promises to enhance even the most mundane of objects with computational properties. Yet, IoT has largely focused on new devices while ignoring the home's many existing possessions. Requiring households to replace their possessions to adopt IoT creates substantial waste. This includes increasing artifacts diverted to the waste stream, as well as eroding agency, individual identities, values, and ways of life. To enable an alternative approach, this dissertation shows how IoT could augment existing household possessions rather than replace them. To do so, it worked with 10 American families to design an upcycled approach to IoT that makes use of existing household possessions and then built a system responsive to these findings. The results 1) describe patterns of families' socio-material practices, 2) developed techniques to enable existing possessions to be transformed with IoT services, and 3) presents The IoT Codex–a book of programmable and inexpensive, battery-free interactive devices–to support customizing everyday objects with software and web services using stickers. The presented work offers a lightweight approach to end user programming of everyday objects for customizing IoT to suit idiosyncratic socio-material practices.

130 pages

Thesis Committee:
Scott Hudson (Co-Chair)
Jessica Hammer (Co-Chair)
Patrick Carrington
Lea Buechley (University of New Mexico)

Jodi Forlizzi, Head, Human-Computer Interaction Institute
Martial Hebert, Dean, School of Computer Science

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