back to article New 3D displays use falling water drops as 'voxels'

Robotics boffins in the States say they have developed a brilliant three-dimensional holographic projection system - ideal, for instance, for playing 3D Tetris - which is based on falling droplets of water. Here's a vid of a prototype system: It seems that the boffins were actually trying to develop a headlight system for …


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  1. Rob

    Correct me if I'm wrong...

    ... but didn't some guy in Germany about 5yrs or more invent a water mist system that didn't exactly the same thing? I think he had even developed it as far as being interactive with 'hot zones' to touch and change the display. In fact I'm pretty sure I read it on the Reg as well.

    El Reg how good is your archive, does it go back that far?

  2. Stephen Usher

    Haven't I seen this in "Seaquest DSV"?

    The ship's counsellor seemed to use a similar technology.. maybe it's reality catching up with SciFi again? (It's "SciFi" and not "Science Fiction" as it's all balloany. No science at all.)

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Perhaps because...

      ...the third dimension wasn't intentionally factored into the German design. This new "volumetric" display is designed to be three-dimensional (or perhaps more properly, layered, since display of arbitrary voxels is still not possible with this). Might be tricky to pull off in an environment with lots of wind or air turbulence.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Haven't I seen this in "Seaquest DSV"?

      I'm not sure about that, but this was definately in last week's New Scientist - or was it even the week before?

    3. Graham Marsden


      ... and Angela in Bones had a similar setup too.

    4. Jerome 0


      You extrapolate that all Science Fiction is "balloany" from watching Seaquest DSV?

    5. Lou Gosselin

      I actually had a simular idea

      A few years ago I was projecting an image onto a 2d grid of small ball bearings.

      The intent of this was to be able to control not only the overall brightness at each pixel (or bearing), but also to control the angle of light reflecting off the bearing.

      From a distance, this produces a genuine 3d image (not stereoscopic). One observer would see one image from one angle, while another observer could see an entirely different image.

      I imagined having an entire circular room with these reflective ball bearings, with numerous projectors/lasers shining down at them from the ceiling. This could project any scenery onto the wall in 3d. Unfortunately my resources limited my prototype to a tiny low res grid. I considered using refraction through glass instead of reflection, but I was ill equipped to manufacture a glass pane with millions of dots. Among some of the alternatives I came up with was to shine the lasers through falling water drops, but this was much less practical that a fixed grid.

      I'd have so much more fun with these side projects if I wasn't bound to my day job.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Sounds like a varant of...

        ...the Integral display, which uses a series of very precise (too precise right now for mass-manufacture) fly's-eye lenses to produce a volumetric light space--an autostereoscopic display with actual depth that the eyes could accommodate against. As I recall, apart from the engineering problems previously mentioned, integral displays suffered from a poor effective viewing angle.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    American researchers make me think of


    lmao - mines the lab coat.

    1. some vaguely opinionated bloke
      Thumb Up

      Now we know...

      ... what really happened to the beaker of rainwater from the laboratory roof...

  4. Anonymous Coward


    Look for the 100m high one in Vegas coming soon.

  5. Richard 81


    OK, 3D because you have a matrix of pixels in three-dimensions. It doesn't really provide a sense of depth though. It just looks like 3 screens.

    1. Brutus


      It's the fact that you're viewing the video on a 2d display that is preventing you getting the full 3d experience? :)

      1. lpopman
        Thumb Up

        titular mumblings

        Perhaps it's because the planes are spread out in this demo.

        Don't forget that the 'pixels' are actually Voxels, so if you pack the planes tightly there would be a solid 3D effect.

    2. Disco-Legend-Zeke

      Yeah, Vegas... not afraid to drop big bucks on water or other vusual displays.

      The "volcano" at the mirage was just re-done, and the "fireworks" at the aria are a must-see on any vegas trip.

      Behind all this is the real vegas infrastructure, the greatest University in the world. Need seats for 50, 500, 5000, or 50,000? The venue exists in Vegas, and it's the easiest city in the world to get to.

      Disclaimer: I love the hell out of vegas. If you have not discovered it for your company, group, or school, please do so ASAP. You wiill be forever grateful that you found it.

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      It's never going to be able to provide an opaque image

      The fact that each 'plane' will be translucent will mean that you are really only seeing layers, not a full 3D image of something. A true 3D image would have a back and sides that would obscure what was 'behind', from whatever angle you look at it. This will also only give an image with correct perspective from the front.

      And to be really usable, you would need more than 3 layers, and each layer added would reduce the brightness of the image, because of needing more gaps between the drops of the front layers.

      Still, interesting technology. I won't hold my breath for a TV based on this though.

  6. Paul M 1

    Something similar...

    ... at Disneyland Paris. They had a mini Lion King show and every now and then they'd start up a wall of water at the back of the stage and project images onto it. I didn't realise for quite a while how they were doing it until I realised the sudden loud noise of water rushing to the ground coincided with the pictures :-)

    Only 2D obviously but it looked impressive.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Jaws 3D

    Looking forward to Jaws 3D in proper 3D in 5 years time, none of this glasses nonsense.

    Now, whos up for inventing the hoverboard and retrofitting old Belfast-built sports cars with flying capabilities? (Along with Citroen relaunching the DS as a taxi)....


    1. Ben Raynes

      <obscure reference>

      ... no, not really.

      Der-dun derrrrr derder der der der derrr de do derr derr da da daaaaaaa.....

      (Ok, my phonetic representation of music is terrible!)

      Although the real question should be how much power does the display use? Is it, in fact, one-point-twenty-one jigawatts?

    2. Thecowking


      I don't think Back to the Future counts as obscure.

      Required viewing maybe.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        By a stupid coincidence I happened to see that scene on German TV, dubbed into German. I didn't see the rest of the film - just that scene. And I noticed that the guy said "Punkt" instead of "Komma". I thought at the time that the translator was perhaps an idiot, but maybe the incorrect decimal sign was a cunning way of translating the incorrect pronunciation of "giga".

        On the other hand, perhaps everyone involved with "entertainment" is technically illiterate.

  8. PDC

    Take That

    New technology? Take That had a virtual Robbie Williams on stage with them on their tour 3 or 4 years ago, using the exact same tech.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What industry could possibly be the first to take advantage...

    "People can touch the water drops and alter the appearance of images, which could lead to interactive experiences we can't begin to predict," says Narasimhan.


    There, fixed it for you.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    They get given a brief to make some amazing new headlight but instead spend the day playing tetris!

  11. TRT Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    Those solenoid valves must burn out quickly. Driving them at 60Hz is quite a challenge. It must be very noisy.

    It's akin to inkjet technology, perhaps piezo electric droplet launchers could be used. And you should have lasers somewhere in there, too.

    Good effort, though. It has potential.

  12. Steve X


    Hmmm. Shower Porn

    1. Restricted Access
      Thumb Up

      RE: Interactive

      Something that makes you feel dirty and clean at the same time? Sounds like a winner to me!

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "Those solenoid valves must burn out quickly. Driving them at 60Hz is quite a challenge. It must be very noisy."

      I'd bet they're using some kind of multiple ink jet set to get the high definition.

      That stuff's rated to *millions* of cycles of operation.

      Those drops are *pretty* small.

  13. Mr Jolly
    Thumb Up


    I'd rather build myself a time fountain, looks much more impressive and a winner with the ladies.

    Well, maybe not the last bit

  14. Paul Westerman


    I need a wee now

  15. BeachBoy

    Go to Disney

    I saw jaw dropping 3D displays using water mist as a projection surface at Disneyland (LA) over 10 years ago.

    Go see it, it is amazing

  16. Tom 64

    Three words...

    Trade show gimmick.

    And who the heck wants to get wet (and not in a good way) while interacting with their computer?

  17. Steve Dulieu

    Hang on...

    ...exactly just how off your face do you and chums need to be to come out with something like <Neil from the young ones> Hey guys, what if we could, like, make the headlights shine *between* the raindrops?</Neil from the young ones> and instead of setting SPG on you, your chums say <Mike the cool person> Great idea, we can't fail to make money, let's get to it. </Mike the cool person>?

    Cheers, Steve.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Done before

    As others have said, this is not new. Sony did a laser light show off water for the film about the Lock Ness monster.

  19. Blain Hamon

    Colour TV is not new! We've had black and white for ages!

    Yeah, we've had projecting onto water for a while now. That's not what's novel about it.

    What appears to be the new whizzy thing is the timing with multiple layers such that you can control which plane of water the light reflects from. That is, it's allowing a previously 2D-only projection system to be multiplexed into something 3D. And that's pretty darn neat.

  20. rogerlebeau


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  21. MyHeadIsSpinning

    Lame display

    Never mind that, watch this instead

  22. Simon B

    Already been done in Bones

    Already been done in 'Bones' - nicely copied ;)

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