nimio is a system comprised of a series of physical objects designed as individual playthings, but wirelessly networked via RF to act as both input and output devices for a collective visualization of distributed activity. These hand-held, translucent silicone toys have embedded sensors (for input) and 3 colors of LEDs (for output) which allow them to be reactive to both sound and touch. Action around one of the nimios will cause the others to glow in different patterns and colors. The interaction design is deliberately open-ended, in order to allow the emergence of distinctive patterns of collaborative engagement in real groups.

We designed and built nimio for a group of ten people who manage a multi-disciplinary information technology research institute. They reside in two spacious suites across the hall from each other and so, while they are in relative proximity, they are often out of ear-shot or sight of one another.

The system is a set of 12 touchable translucent white silicone toys that can detect when there is sound around them and when they are being moved. They transmit this information to each other wirelessly, and display it via red, green and blue lights. A single nimio is defined by its shape and its color. There are four shapes (pyramid, cube, dome and cylinder) and three colors of bases and lights (red, green and blue). Each nimio can display all three colors but can only trigger distributed display of the color on its base. Each toy is a unique combination of a shape and color (for example, there is only one "red cube" or "blue dome"). These two properties create two types of "family groups," shape groups and color groups (for example, "dome nimios" or "blue nimios"). The family groups and the type of interaction detected govern they way in which information is displayed on the nimios.

The interactive diagram below shows how nimio works. You can mouseover the red cube, the green dome, and the blue pyramid, and click on them to see examples of how the nimios communicate.

when a nimio senses sound when a nimio is fidgeted with when a nimio is shaken vigorously

nimio can detect and display sound and two different levels of movement. If any nimio detects sound around it, all other nimios pulse their matching light in rhythm with the sound. So, for example, if the cube-shaped nimio with a red base senses sound all other nimios will display red.

Next, a nimio detects when it is being moved gently. This activity will only be displayed by nimios of the same color or shape as the sensing nimio, and it will be displayed as a steady pulsing. So, if the green dome is moved gently, all domes and green-based nimios will slowly pulse green, but, for instance, the blue-based pyramid will not pulse.

Finally, a nimio detects when it is shaken vigorously. This activity will also only be displayed by nimios that share its shape or color, as a solid light for 5 seconds. For example, if the blue pyramid is shaken, all pyramids and blue-based nimios will light up solid blue, but, for instance, the red-based cylinder will not be affected.