A Volumetric Projector is ... what R2-D2 used to show Princess Leia in Star Wars.

This is an old project that seemed halted by refusal by DLP to provide a DMD chip
to vastly increase the 3D resolution. This project has not changed at all since
before HDTV even existed. I suppose after people realize the world isn't flat, this is what
they will watch when 1800's movie technology finally gets "old".

It is simple enough to have been built entirely by not more than 2 people, in a very short
total amount of time.
It actually does project animated 3D bitmapped images into the air.
It can be made by anyone who is good at PIC programming and mechanically inclined.
It cost us NOTHING, and has potential beyond most high budget 3D display research.
It contains no parts that were not available in 1980. All were scavenged from a junk pile.
Most or All of it's 3D animations were sent 100 miles over a 14400 baud modem.
It does not stop if the modem hangs up.
It looks the same from all angles.
It has no mirrors, just one lens, which doesn't have the size limitation of a parabolic mirror.
It's a hunk of junk, but it works.

IT IS PUBLIC-DOMAINED (cc-share alike)

And, should the info be updated, a solution to the failure to acquire DLP may be included.
As well as some more of the animations that are stored in it.

That's an old 80286 laptop, used as a TTY on the right.

Step 1: Go to This Website

All of the currently available notes for this project are here and may be updated in the future.
Build a Holodeck ]

Electronic Parts used:
9-pin serial (DB9) connector
MAX232C serial data voltage level converter
INTEL 8031 PROCESSOR (with 11.092 Mhz clock crystal)
256 LED's latched by...
32 of 74HC574 selected by...
2 of 74LS154
32K bytes of RAM used as 60 3D Frame buffers
OPTICAL SENSOR for vertically syncing Lens Piston via interrupt to the processor
5Volt power supply...when all LEDs are on they draw about 7 amps.

Unnecessarily ridiculous and heavy piston mechanism pushing an eyeglass lens up and down.

Protocol: Simple ASCII RS-232C at up to 19200 baud... just a couple of control commands.

A DLP-less solution will use an ancient hi-res mechanical television projection mechanism instead of LED's.
The mechanism is called a "Mirror Screw" and works differently than the helical mirror in an old 3D project on the site,
but is a cheap and low-tech alternative to DLP chips for this project.

Step 2: Start Over-Get an Eyeglass Lens

Picture of Start Over-Get an Eyeglass Lens

Get the biggest eyeglass lens you can find, maybe one that has not yet been cut to fit in frames.
An assortment might be better. Uncut stock lenses look like magnifying glasses except they have
a concave side. Or just play with someone's glasses for a minute.

Get an LED and a watch battery and light it up. Hold the "glasses" looking down.
Hold the LED above the glasses. Move the glasses up and down. You should see
a moveable virtual image between the glasses and the LED.

If you have a circle of LEDs and you move the glass lens up and down you get a tube.
If you have a square of LEDs you get a cube.
If you change the image while the lens moves, using a PIC with many LEDs for example, you can get any shape.

What's important is that the virtual image appears in the air above the lens,
and the size of the lens is the maximum size of the image.
EDIT:new image+comment:
Oh... It turns out that the shinyness of this woofer is causing unexpected multiple floating images.


I realize that I skipped the part of building the machinery.
It's junk, so why would you do it the same way?

This is a short description of the program in english pseudocode:
Is there any useable data in the RAM?
If not, copy the demo animation from the ROM into the RAM.
2.Read the animation frame list and display the next frame.
(Copy the RAM into the LEDs)
exceptions: Frame 00 means go to the last frame, FF means to go the first frame.
3.Wait for sync, then Go to step 2

SYNC interrupt: as above, go to step 2

Just Stores the data in a buffer and continue as before unless it's a RETURN, then obey it.
Data format: 0 thru 9 and A thru F are hex. Usually to be stored in the RAM.
lower case letters are commands...

r -cold restart... copy the demo from ROM into RAM (testing)
a - followed by hex data from 01 to 3F representing frame animate sequence, plus 00 for retain last image and FF for loop
d - followed by one hex byte, frame to be displayed
f - followed by one hex byte, frame to write data to
i - identify active device on RS-232C port, responds with "Q" which arbitrarily means "CUBE" (testing)
HEX DATA - usually represents a new frame of 3D bitmap, conveniently ending each line with a RETURN,
because it contains one 2D level of the 3D bitmap frame. Some commands select frames by the following hex byte.

Many animations, especailly rotating symmetrical objects, can animate in as few as 3 frames, and after the frames are
uploaded, the command "a 01 02 03 00" starts the animation.

The resolution of the Volumetric projector is currently 16x16x16=4096 bits= half a kilobyte,
so about 62 frames of 3D image animation fit in 32K.
Frame zero is divided into the animation sequence storage and the serial data buffer, and a command to
display Frame Zero will be interpreted as "Pause Animation, show current image until further notice"

It's all really as simple as steps 1,2,3 and the software in the ROM is less than 1K, and the remaining ROM space contains
a demo image so that the thing should always work even without being connected to a computer.

A long "3D TV show" could be streamed into it, since it can download one thing and play another at the same time.

All of the animations for this volumetric projector were quickly generated using a program written in BASIC in less than an hour.

Any questions?

Step 4: How the FIRST One Worked...

Picture of How the FIRST One Worked...

This one was made a long time ago with a MC68705P3S, which is vaguely like a PIC16C57, having about 1K.
Using dot matrix displays like these for 3D is not very impressive,
at least at the time, LEDs were not as bright, the image was very dim and could only be seen in dark rooms.
The chip was programmed with clever patterns that made layers of a rotating cube,
with 3 image phases (the cube rotated by cycling through 3 images).
The patterns were selected so that the dot matrix display would not be scanned,
but remain on as the rotor passed through the cube image.

All of the Cube volumetric projectors use unscanned LEDs to give maximum brightness.

Rotor? This was simply a chip and a battery and a dot matrix display on a computer fan.

The 3 bitmapped images each consisted of several layers of carefully designed 7x10 bitmaps (only 17 bit, not 70 bit).
Certainly they can fit in an old PIC chip.

There was an animation sequence. The cube image rotated clockwise,
then it rotated counter clockwise, then it stopped. The sequencing of the 3 images
in the animation was something like....
1231231231231231231231231 (turn one way)
3213213213213213213213213 (turn the other way)
3333333333333333333333333 (stop turning, then repeat this whole sequence)

(There is a "nut in a cube" animation on the website WMV video that plays similarly, also having only 3 frames.)

As the fan turned, the circuit was cued by a rare earth magnet passing a tape head, to dump a frame into the LEDs.

This device is very easy to make but not very impressive and if you try to touch the image it will hurt.

Step 5: How the First One's Image Was Generated.

Picture of How the First One's Image Was Generated.

The diagram shown is a rough plan of how "the first one" did generate the three images
that made the image of a rotating cube. The large pattern on the top represents the
appearance of the top of the virtual image, which was not actually coded.

Below each image is the series of dot matrix LED patterns quickly displayed
in order, as the rotor turned, so that a cube appeared in one of the three frames
animating it's rotation. Each of the small patterns represents a slice of the
3D frame, as the LEDs light , as the rotor passes through the image.

These were very carefully constructed because this particular device was limited
to displaying patterns that could appear on the LED display without multiplexing.
Each pattern is one that could result from power being applied continuously to
the LED display. That was necessary because the display was not very bright,
and would have been a lot dimmer with multiplexing.

Since a square is not among the patterns that could be displayed this way,
the most obvious way to display a 3D cube was not among the three frames.

So "the first one" (the 3D device built on a fan) was very limited and primitive and no more useful than for
showing that a 3D rotating cube could be displayed and people would say "wow".

Step 6: Dusting It Off for Another Good Demo and More Info

Picture of Dusting It Off for Another Good Demo and More Info

Ok, my PCs are a little less messed up recently and I can do more imaging.

Here is the main board on the big junky machine.
It's very glitchy after being pulled out of storage, probably lots of loose wires,
when this thing runs it shakes itself violently because of those big nasty motors.

Somewhere in it is our awesome demo 3D animation of an airplane flying over mountains,
which must be sort of an archetype because Perspecta (tm) did a very similar demo
on the news soon after I did, and before we and they knew about each other.
I offered them the projection tech then, but without even seeing our junk-o-matic
they ignored, and just sent us spam.

We and our friends just smiled and said, "that's how you do that!",
just like our sphere display (maybe a future instructable) obviously
needed to show an image of the globe of the earth. The flying demo
which I eagerly hope to show a video here soon of, is distinctly different than
all the other spinning shapes and stuff. There is a 2D render of the "flying demo"
image somewhere on the "holodeck" site linked in step 2.

Via the ribbon cables, each of 256 LEDs above the magic eyeglass lens is
connected to it's own bit of RAM, and in this way it is similar to a DLP/DMD
in the sense that that tech has a bit of RAM controlling every single mirror,
continuously and in parallel. No mirrors here, just LEDs at the other end of the cables.

Two very small boards not shown have the (#1) MAX232 chip and (#2) the lens position sensor.

Any questions or comments about this circuit?
Psst! Any PIC runs faster than this board does.

ERROR CORRECTION: The address selector chips are 74154's (not 74164)

Step 7: Just Have to Keep It Running Long Enough to Make a Video.

Picture of Just Have to Keep It Running Long Enough to Make a Video.

Maybe I'll (have to) get rid of the motors and put a woofer there.
And answer questions or add more helpful details about how it works.
Sorry this step is not ready yet, am I being a jerk for doing it anyway?...

Also, if anyone cares, this "preview" image was first seen on the projector
after data synthesis, and later rendered or translated from the projector's data.


gavinfinlaysmith (author)2012-09-23

see for details of how to make a stunning device capable of recreating the famous r2d2 scene from starwars



Why does it go over to another site that is asking for my email?

technoguy94 (author)2011-07-22

OK, I'll admit a lot of this I don't understand, but from what I do understand the image is created using a grid of LEDs. If that's true, couldn't the LED grid be replaced with a small LCD screen to boost resolution and add full color support? Assuming the frame rate is high enough, that is.

tinker234 (author)2011-05-23

nice hard to see in the light look at this and combioned together valle

paulinohio (author)2010-07-13

It would have been nice to see a link for a 2D demo of the device in action. Maybe I wasn't reading close enough. So I will keep an eye, well both eyes, on this one. Also I was wondering has anyone ever used fiber optics for any sort of surround vision or 3D? If so, how big was it? It seems like you could do amazing things these days with fiber optics and video images. Then again I bet a scanning projection system is more practical...

mburchell (author)2009-11-23

Does anyone know of a way to contact the creator of this project.

ProLogicCustoms (author)2009-09-07

I Need this Light for my Light Shows How much for you too make one for me ..........

conrad2468 (author)2008-08-18

could you..uhhh make this again only do an instructable "for dummies"?

ktalex (author)conrad24682009-08-23

i agree with u i still dont know what it is.

notachihuahua (author)2009-03-14

Awesome. This is too cool. can you pls upload an insturctable for dummies??? :D abt the connections and stuff. It might sound stupid but alot of ppl who are interested cant compile junk too artfully :( lemonade rox:P

Azurial (author)2008-08-21

Have you tried an increased memory cache and/or a small LCD screen/512 LED set up?

blckthng (author)2008-08-16

So what exactly does this do again?

starthorn (author)2006-09-08

"IT IS PUBLIC-DOMAINED (cc-share alike)" Just a note, there is actually a very significant difference between Public Domain and the Creative Commons Share Alike license. Placing something in the Public Domain means you are relinquishing all claims of ownership and copyright from the work in question. Anyone can do anything they want, including slapping their name on it and claiming they wrote it. The CC Share Alike license means that anyone can copy and use it provided they continue releasing it under the same license (See their site for further details).

VIRON (author)starthorn2006-09-08

My intention is like if I invented and sold lemonade, I don't mind giving everyone the recipe, so they can sell lemonade too and so can I. I know how to make purple lemonade too, and if you ask me I'll tell you, even though I am not selling purple lemonade now, I still can. Right now my yellow lemonade is free for all. I own the original prototype (scissors cut paper) and don't understand how public domain could mean that everyone Except Me has copyright.

thermoelectric (author)VIRON2008-07-29

how do u make purple lemonade? I'm thirsty

VIRON (author)thermoelectric2008-07-29

I'd go to the baking section of the store and buy food coloring,
mix something around 2 parts blue with one part red, and mix it dropwise with a clear jug of ice water until the water is purple. Then slice 1 or 2 lemons and drop the slices in the jug.
Honestly I never made it before because it is silly but now that it is
in the public domain, no one can patent "Purplemonadetm".
Anyway it's just a metaphor; selling lemonade is an archetypical
example of a traditional childhood business experience.

thermoelectric (author)VIRON2008-07-29


hollasch (author)VIRON2006-09-09

To respond to your last sentence, "public domain" means that a work is completely given over to the public, and that you surrender all rights of control over that work. In that sense, everyone (including you) has the right to make a copy of that work, in part or in whole, and to use it for whatever purpose they desire. Also, while they can attempt to claim that they wrote it, they cannot impose any future restrictions on it (trying to control future copies) or legally claim ownership of the work. This may or may not sound scary to you. For me, I vastly prefer to put my work in the public domain than to try to rule everyone's use of it (the approach taken by the Gnu license, Creative Commons licenses, and so forth).

kingkewl (author)2007-11-06

True Steampunk ... Too Kewl !!!

A good name (author)kingkewl2008-07-16

It isn't steampunk....

jak06 (author)2008-03-19

whats the estimated cost?

VIRON (author)jak062008-03-20

This was done on zero budget, with access to junk and obsolete equipment (more junk). (free time + free junk + a few cents worth of electricity)

Pyrotechnik (author)2007-11-27

Very nice. Try to imitate the starwars thing with the princess and crap. that'd be awesome

thread_soul (author)2007-11-18

I must admit, your reflective approach to persistence of vision volumetric projection is pretty neat, seems more promising in certain areas than most of the direct emittance and opaque media illumination methods currently in commercialization. What are your thoughts on radial / rotational methods vs. translational in order to gain an increase in vertical volume?

VIRON (author)thread_soul2007-11-19

Not enough details in your question. Rotating a circuit board full of LEDs presents problems with power and data connections and the image can not be touched. My projector's volume is already like two cubes full of voxels stacked vertically, although most demos use single-cube volume because it requires half as much memory and is symmetrical. Math rotation of objects is documented on the project website. Experiments I've done with rotating LED boards have had brightening toward the axis, along with a dark axis core, and trouble synchronizing at the 0/360 degree position, resulting in a ripping effect.

thread_soul (author)VIRON2007-11-23

I was thinking of something along the lines of projecting vertically downwards onto something akin to a coreless mirror screw of pitch = 1. Based on the video, the height appeared not more than 1/2 or 1 voxel at most... if in reality the system is operating at 2 voxel height or more, the question is a moot point; having to cope with synchronization and ripping issues wouldn't serve the effort required.

andymac (author)2007-11-03

I saw your video and was just thinking, if you had a modified subwoofer that was capable of making a 20 hz tone, that could create 40 fps (1 fps for the subwoofer going up, 1 for it going down again) for your projector, this is below the levels of human hearing so you could have a "silent" projector and 40fps is more than enough. Also is it true if you have a lens that is net concave even if only one side is concave, because that would mean that you could possibly make your image larger than the led array if you curve the lens out enough and are you aiming to replace the led array with something like an ipod sceen, but with about 100x more fps fps and about 100x more brigtness

VIRON (author)andymac2007-11-04

-Too hard to sync the up and down frames. -Possible to use different kinds of net concave lenses, yes. -Very high brightness and fps and color and resolution is possible with DLP type DMD/MEMS (micromirror arrays).

andymac (author)andymac2007-11-03

ignore the first paragraph, you've already answered it

endolith (author)2007-09-22

Public domain and CC-sharealike are not the same thing.

VIRON (author)endolith2007-09-23

OK, here's the deal. IANAL. I invented most of this. It is unique. I am developing it. I teach you how to build it and that it exists. You may build and sell it, and make improvements, and I reserve all rights to do the same. This is not secret nor patented so don't worry about infringements. The obvious project goal is to develop a very large 3D display. People are thirsty, so let's make lemonade!

endolith (author)VIRON2007-09-23

Yeah just pointing it out. CC-sharealike means people who modify your design have to share it too. Public domain means people who modify your design can make that modified design proprietary.

John McKenna (author)2007-09-15

Damn. Whicked pissa ( that means I like it very much). I had a daydream once about building a volumetric projector. I'm so impressed that you really did it. My daydream came from one of those crappy LED toys you see around Xmass and new years. You know, the ones with the ring of LEDs in this plastic ball shaped thing that spinn around and blink, sort of like the sphere thing at radio-shack and Brookfields that is a sphere shaped lighning board (it's a spinning ring of LEDs). My daydream was to build a spinning ring of RGB LEDs with 180deg light diffusers, so that you get this 3D (spherical surface) that is really a matrix of pixlels organized by timing of the ring position and the blinking LEDs. It's not a true XYZ pixle thing like what you've got going on, but it should give you that 3D freaky feeling because it is an image occupying a volume. I remember this haunted house gag that projected a face onto a bug-screen that was mashed into a bowl shape roughly the length and width of a face. The projected details on the 3D surface looked like a damn face! Lesson: a rough 3D surface can take you a long way if you have decent resolution. I was daydreaming about a four foot high scary haloween face/head, rotating around in a spherical volumetric projection, and saying nasty stuff. scary. The head would be imaged by blinking the LEDs on the ring. All you need is like 44 frames a second (60's better), a three or four foot diameter ring with like 1" hemisphere diffusers (the pixles) containing HB RGB LEDs, and .... Well OK, I've never done any of that. You are an inspiration.

iwantacuracy (author)2007-07-28

to bad im not good with electronics or stuff like that. BUT THAT IS SO GOOD!!!

James (pseudo-geek) (author)2007-05-22

what exactly does this thing do? is it a holograph?

It is technically a mirage, not a hologram. It uses the ability of some lenses to make a mirage, moves the lens to move a flat mirage, and changes the mirage (at the source) while in motion into cross-sections of 3D objects. The source of the mirage image is a flat board stuffed with LEDs, controlled by a microcontroller.

Mad Cat (author)2007-04-26

WOW... Can't believe it took me so long to see this...

MerleCorey (author)2007-03-02

This is incredible! Im sure you could quiet it down a bit and mabey use a bigger lens...i dont know mabey an actuator instead of whatever motor you use for the up and down.

VIRON (author)MerleCorey2007-03-03

"Next time" will be much better. Color. More Voxels. No big loud motors. However, the next similar instructable may likely be a Virtual Reality project, which is much more DIY-able and useful with familiar computer parts. Hopefully something much more FUN to build and use.

VIRON (author)2007-02-24
VIRON (author)VIRON2007-02-24
Alternative link:

VIRON (author)2007-02-24

The Flying Cube!

VIRON (author)2006-12-16

Maybe after the busy holidays. The machine has around 1800 solder connections, (6 x 256 LEDs + board) shakes a lot, and more than one of them is loose. Sorry for the delay; I'm eager to post it but don't have an archived video.

Jesus10555 (author)2006-12-15

anytime soon?

VIRON (author)2006-09-16

The eyeglass lens is not flat on one side but vaguely like a spoon. Another irrelevant image "inside" it can (only) be seen from above the LED array, much like the real object inside of a "Mirage" device can only be seen from directly above.

rgbphil (author)2006-09-15

Point taken on the computer screen speed....oh well. It would be good to know why the eyeglass lens stops working, so a lighter bigger lens could be used instead. With the fresnel as described, there is a problem with blurryness. Maybe too much for this application. I was just amazed by the illusion from such a simple bit of plastic. With your eyeglass do you get a second image appearing inside as well as the ghostly image floating above the lens? I'm guessing this is because of the flat side. A fresnel lens avoiding the interior image would have to have engravings on both sides I suppose. Phil

VIRON (author)2006-09-15

I suggest that these results be compared to an eyeglass lens, there is definitely something special going on with it, so that it is sharp and undistorted so that a projected cube is actually square. The eyeglass lens outperformed the "Mirage" projector, which was previously tried. Computer screens are too slow to generate the layers of a 3D image, only around 60 frames per second are possible, thousands of 2D frames per second are required. The eyeglass lens mysteriously stops working if ANYTHING (black, reflective, refractive, etc) covers any surface of it. But it is POSSIBLE to manufacture a nearly equivalent fresnel. Many different optics do have a similar floating image effect and many were tried. Even a spoon works a little bit.

rgbphil (author)2006-09-14 I'm really convinced of the merits of this approach. I firmly suggest getting TWO fresnel lenses and putting them back to back. Maybe also using a laptop screen layed flat instead of your LEDs to make a higher resolution image without too much work. Here is an easy experiment for people to verify the ghostly image of an LED projected 'on top' of the lens/reflector....the basic premise of this device. Get two cheap plastic fresnel lenses of the type used to read maps. They are a flat lens just bigger than a quarterback book. Put them back to back and tape down to a preferably non reflective black black cardboard. Lay it flat at about laptop height to where you are sitting. Get a 5mm LED or any point source of light and hover it above the lens/reflector just over the height of your head. Look into the magic lens and a ghostly image of the LED will be floating just above the lens. Also an image below as well, presumably from the flat sides. Cool. Phil

rgbphil (author)2006-09-14

You've got me playing with lenses and blinking LEDs now. Just did an experiment with a cheap plastic fresnel magnifying sheet. The sort used for people to read maps or for short sighted people to read books and the like. When reflected off, rather than being projected through it gives a rough concave image as described on your site. May be a cheap way of making the thing lighter, easier to move with a voice coil and bigger if a little blurrier image. Phil

rgbphil (author)2006-09-14

ahhh, I should have read the description a little more carefully. It is because you are moving the image of the reflected LED array via the lens that makes this approach unique. Interesting the image height is more than the lens movement. Is this a linear relationship, ie something to do with magnification, or is it non small movments at one lens position makes larger movements in the volume display. Also interesting is the observation that silvering either side of the lens stopped the effect. Have you tried a lens/mirror that is concave on one side and flat on the other. If that works with silvering on either side, then you can increase the efficiency. No doubt lots of light is being lost going through the lens. Perhaps to make a single sided concave lense you can use the existing lens, and attach it on one side to a flat plane of glass. The space in between could be filled with clear mineral oil, or something close to the refractive index of glass. You could then silver either side to see if it works. Phil

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