Four months ago we were screwed.
But that's putting the cart before the horse - which as we all know is a no no. First, a brief background: I'm part of a volumetric imaging company, Looking Glass. We invented volumetric printing the previous year as a way to seed the ground for our big dream of dynamic volumetric display. You know, the Princess Leia technology of sci-fi dreams.
And four months ago, we'd just spent all of our personal money and meager company earnings developing the dream - a high-resolution, full color-depth true 3D volumetric display. The only problem was, this display of the future was the size of a refrigerator and made a volumetric image just a little bit bigger than an ice cube. It would be years before we'd be able to turn it into a commercial product.
Then, on the precipice, we had an idea.
This is the unfolding* story of the L3D Cube, as it happens. My hope is that by being a nearly current play-by-play update of how this story unfolds, the narrative fallacy that plagues all post-game product launch accounts can be mitigated if not altogether avoided. If additional details of any step along the way - technical, business or otherwise - would be useful for folks please let me know and I'll expand the section best I can.
*unfolding on Kickstarter now. I will be updating the later steps of this Instructable as the present catches up to the future.
Not interested in all of this strategic product development stuff and just want to build your own cube from scratch? The links below are how to make it happen!
All of the hardware & software described here is completely open source under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.5 license.
That being said, a word of warning: it will be hard to build a single high-quality cube from scratch, since it involves large even-temperature reflow ovens which are usually only available for large scale production. That's why we think there's value in us providing a kit, because we deal with that nonsense. But if you want to dive in, here are the detailed designs:
Cube hardware: https://github.com/enjrolas/L3D-Hardware
If you're looking for details on how to start creating on these volumetric LED cubes, more technical details on Alex's "How to Draw Sweet Graphics for LED Cubes" Instructable here.
Did you know the top Technology Instructable of all time is a volumetric display? It's called a 8x8x8 3D LED Cube.
Before discovering this, we'd felt pretty isolated. There were only a handful of hobbyists experimenting with high resolution volumetric display, using techniques like spinning LED arrays and highspeed projector systems. Work on volumetric display was generally considered so expensive and complex it was performed only in places like the MIT Media Lab or secret departments of Samsung.
But then one day we found that there were actually millions of people reading about how to make beautifully simple volumetric displays with arrays of LEDs. While these LED cube displays were of far lower resolution than the displays of our dreams, it didn't matter - they were true volumetric displays. That said, each of these 3D LED cubes would take legendary soldering skills and between 100 - 200 hours to assemble (and an equal amount of time to program) -- but a few people would do it and they would become heroes to millions of others.
Excited to find we weren't alone in the DIY volumetric display seas, we tried to buy an LED cube kit. Only it turned out there weren't any.
And that was the idea. We would make the first color 3D LED cube kit with easy to share volumetric programs that could run on any cube in the world. And we'd make sure they could be assembled by anyone in under an hour. To pull this off, we'd need to make some hardware improvements and create a way for cubes to connect to each other over WiFi, so we got to work.
The L3D Cube was born.