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Nimbus is an interactive installation piece and functional lighting element created in collaboration with James Fey and Evelyn Barcenes. 


The goal of this project was to create an installation piece which would react to touch and sound and provide a sense of fantasy, wonder, and whimsy. We used these affective goals as the cornerstone for the ideation and development of this piece.


I served as the main visual designer on the team, and co-led the interaction design along with my collaborator James Fey. I designed the physical structure and put the final pieces together by hand. 


Nimbus was created as part of a class assignment to be displayed at UC Santa Cruz's 2018 Winter Open Studios showcase. Our challenge was to use electronic components to create an interactive piece which satisfied the curriculumn requirements of both the Digital Arts and New Media and Computational Media graduate programs. This project was to be completed in about 6 weeks on top of our other coursework, and we were also expected to provide our own funding for it. Due to these constraints, our main limitations were time and money. 


Our team knew we wanted to do something with lights, and something which could be touched. When we settled on the idea of clouds, we started to think about functionality.

We were not the first people to come up with the idea of a light up cloud, but we wanted to push the idea further and provide the "wow" factor for an in-person installation. We decided it would be most fun to interact with if they were responsive to touch and sound. 

nimbus plans

With our intended functionality in mind, we set out to create lightweight frames covered in fluffy cotton, each containing a microcontroller and a neopixel strip inside. The neopixel strips inside would shift slowly through a range of colors, but when users spoke to or around them loudly it would cause them to max out the brightness in a single color. Although this feature was eventually cut due to time and funding constraints, the original design also included motors which would pull the clouds up to the ceiling when they experienced a mild push. We changed the final touch effect to flash brightly in a pattern similar to lightning.

We decided to use Adafruit Circuit playgrounds because of their built in MEMS microphones and accelerometers, which would cover our sound and motion sensing needs. The circuit playground could also be easily powered by battery packs, which was ideal for us as we did not want visible wires breaking the fantastical illusion.


Testing lighting functionality during the build process


Photo of the final installation at UCSC's 2018 Winter Open Studios Showcase

Video of users interacting with the installation

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