Introduction: N00tron 3D Spherical Volumetric Display - Interactive Exhibit

Picture of N00tron 3D Spherical Volumetric Display - Interactive Exhibit
n00tron is a unique technology and art exhibit. Generative light art is created in the spherical volumetric display with complete interactivity.  Participants have realtime control of the display drawing algorithms using knobs and switches on the control panel. Great fun for all ages, learn about Persistence Of Vision display technology while producing your own animated artistic creations!

n00tron needs a home in a museum near you!
Please contact us if you can help: dan at MonkeyLectric dot com

by MonkeyLectric

As seen at:  Maker Faire 2010, SigGraph 2010, Maker Faire 2011, Maker Faire NYC 2011

Step 1: What Is It?

Picture of What Is It?

About n00tron:

- it is a true 3-dimensional display (also known as a Volumetric display)
- the display volume is spherical, about 550mm in diameter
- the display is created by spinning a bicycle wheel with rows of lights inside it
- the bicycle wheel is spun in 2 axes simultaneously
- n00tron is great for making light art, but it is not possible to make 3D bitmaps.
- n00tron is controlled interactively from a control panel
- n00tron draws colorful patterns using simple parameterized drawing algorithms (also known as Generative Art)
- the control panel has lots of knobs that set the basic parameters of the drawing algorithms
- participants of any age can easily create their own amazing 3D light sculptures!

Read on for more information!

Step 2: The Wheel

Picture of The Wheel

We used a standard 26" bike wheel.  Its a beefy model with a solid axle and a 6-bolt disc-brake mount.  We bolted a 22 tooth bike gear onto the disc-brake mount.

Mounted inside the wheel is our MonkeyLectric Video Pro display hardware.  We're using standard Video Pro hardware with custom firmware to generate the art.  The display hardware has 256 full color LEDs arranged onto 4 sticks.

Step 3: The Fork

Picture of The Fork

The fork holds the wheel just like the front wheel on your bike.

We welded a heavy-duty custom fork to hold the wheel.  The fork is perfectly straight (no rake like a normal bike fork).  A motor mount is welded in.  The fork tubes are cro-moly with 2mm wall thickness.  Total fork length is about 400mm to the headset, plus a 350mm head tube.  The motor plate and axle mount plates were cut with a cnc waterjet from 4.5mm steel.

Step 4: 1st Axis Drive

Picture of 1st Axis Drive

The 1st rotating axis is the axle built into the bike wheel.

The 1st axis drive motor is mounted to a plate in the center of the fork.  The mount slots allow us to shift the motor a bit to get the chain tensioned as well as balance the fork weight.

After the wheel, chain and motor are attached and ready-to-run, we balance out the axis further by bolting small weights to the motor plate.

The 1st axis uses a standard bike chain.

Step 5: The 2nd Axis

Picture of The 2nd Axis

The 2nd rotating axis ("outer axis") is a standard bike headset bear.  Its just like you are spinning the handlebars on a bike really fast, causing the fork and front wheel to spin around and around.

Instead of a full bike frame attached to the fork, there is just a simple tube.  It's like the head-tube on your bike but without the rest of the bike.  We started with a 12" long tube of 6061 aluminum, and used a lathe to machine the headset bearing grooves.  We put in the beefiest bike headset we could find.  The aluminum head-tube is 2" diameter with 3/8" thick walls.

The 2nd axis motor is mounted on slots similar to the 1st, allowing chain tension adjustment. Stock drive gears and chain connect the motor to the end of the fork tube.

Step 6: Main Mount Plate

Picture of Main Mount Plate
The main mount plate holds:
  1. the head tube bearing assembly
  2. the base mounting tube
  3. the 2nd axis motor
The head tube and the base tube are bolted onto the plate using heavy-duty pipe hangar clamps (normally used to hold large pipes to the wall of a building).

the main plate is 6mm thick 6061 aluminum.  it is a 2D cutout shape using a CNC waterjet cutter.  size is about 300mm x 400mm

Step 7: Motors

The 2 motors are pulled from an old wheelchair.  They are 24V DC, 5A motors with a built-in 10:1 gear reduction.  Output speed is about 300RPM, which is very close to what we wanted on our display axes.

Step 8: Slip Ring

Picture of Slip Ring

A slip ring at the end of the fork tube gets power into the rotating fork to power the 1st axis motor.

The LED display itself has lithium-ion batteries mounted on the wheel, in the future we may add a 2nd slip ring so everything is powered from outside.

Step 9: Base Pyramid

Picture of Base Pyramid

The base needs to withstand extremely large vibration forces from the rotating display.  We built the base using standard industrial handrail fittings ("speedrail").  These are very convenient to set up and break down, using just set screws in the fittings.  We can put up the base in under an hour, and the whole n00tron in about 90 minutes.

Most of the tubing is schedule-40, "1.5" guage size, meaning the OD is 1.9" and the walls are about 0.1" thick 6061 aluminum.  The main central tube is thicker schedule-80.  The pyramid base is 5 feet on a side, putting the bottom of the main mount plate about 5 feet off the ground.

Under the 4 corners are solid rubber blocks, and we add about 100 lbs of sand bags around the base of the frame.  The pyramid is very rigid, but the forces at the mount plate are extreme and capable of visibly bending the central tube.  Hitting the right motor speeds can make the entire exhibit walk across the floor due to the vibration!

Step 10: Control Panel

Picture of Control Panel

The control panel is built into an aluminum briefcase.  very sleek!  We laser cut a custom control panel plate from black acrylic.  Inside the case are 3 Arduino's, each one connected to 6 analog knobs and digital switches.

We bought most of the knobs, the switches were scavenged from old government hardware.

The 3 arduino's connect by USB to a Macbook running Processing.  A simple Processing script reads the knob and switch values and sends them to a Zigbee radio on the serial port.

The spinning display hardware has a matching Zigbee receiver on board.

Step 11: Power Supply

The power supply is a dual 30V variable DC supply.  10A capacity on each channel.  We found one with all-LED display so we could see it in the dark room with the exhibit!  We normally set the motor speeds to be constant, about 200 RPM on the outer axis and 250RPM on the inner axis.  The variable supply lets us stop and start the axes now and then to show everyone the hardware.

Step 12: Its Done!

Picture of Its Done!

Installation photos from Siggraph 2010 and Maker Faire 2010

Step 13: Do Your Homework - Gyroscopic Forces.

Mechanically speaking, the main question about n00tron is:  will it fly apart into a million pieces killing everyone around it?  our mechanical engineer calculated the forces on the axles and bearings at different rotation speeds to answer this question.  With a dual-axis configuration like we are using, very large gyroscopic forces are produced no matter how balanced each of the individual axes is.  This is a fundamental limitation of any 2-axis design.  The inner axis produces hundreds of pounds of force at the axle, the outer axis is somewhat less.

The gyroscopic forces rotate along with the axes, this results in considerable vibration of the entire structure.  This is the reason for the overall beefyness of everything and the large pyramid base.

Calculations are attached.

Step 14: Can N00tron Display Princess Leia Floating in the Air?

no.  to display a 3D bitmap image the display mechanism needs to pass through every point in the spherical space at least 10 times per second.  while this display is 3D, at the current rotation rates it only hits about 5% of the points in the 3D space on each rotation.  It is great for making generative art but not good for bitmaps.  To make bitmaps the axes would need to rotate 10x or 20x faster than they do now.  From the last step we know that such a fast rotation would cause the display to fly apart into a million pieces.   There are plenty of ways to make a floating 3D princess leia, this just isn't one of them.

Step 15: N00tron First Test

video of our first spin-up of n00tron.  using a simple test pattern we slowly start and stop each axis separately, then do both together so you can see the results in detail.


boot-cheese-3000 (author)2014-03-24

Is this a tutorial or just an explanation on how this works? How much does making something like this cost (besides the lights and software, I already know that's close to $1000)?

franky111 (author)2013-03-26

for your intellectual fufillment please visit the university of nigeria for more information, log on to

gavinfinlaysmith (author)2012-09-23

if you want to do the princess leah scene then we can help. weve just documented how to make a volumetric display that will do just that . 200 million vexels per second . pop over to and check out our video and full guide . cheers.

makendo (author)2010-12-21

Dan - fantastic machine, looks amazing. Given that you're looking to find a home for it in a museum, I wonder if you could program it to depict molecular orbitals? These depict the 3D probability space for electrons in an atom, and are fundamental to our understanding of chemistry. They're also notoriously hard to visualize, but your n00tron could really bring an abstruse subject to 3D life in spectacular fashion (and might be a selling point for a science museum?). See the Orbitron for images, equations, dot density diagrams, etc. 

dan (author)makendo2010-12-22

some of the output modes already look a lot like electron orbitals, this is one reason we called it 'n00tron'.

RMORENO75 (author)dan2012-08-22

Hey Dan, are you still looking for a museum for the "Rope and Sound Interactive Tensegrity Sculpture"? I'll be emailing you at your monkeylectric email with my info. Thanks.

Lic. Robert Moreno

neutron7 (author)dan2012-06-11

I approve of the name.

petruza (author)2012-06-10

Why aren't 3D "bitmaps" ( or voxelmaps ) not possible?
Is it not possible to keep a point fixed on a 3D position?
Is it not possible to know with precision where in space will a certain led be at a certain time as a function of time and rotation angles?

petruza (author)petruza2012-06-10

Oops ignore the double-negative.

( Why aren't 3D bitmaps possible? )

glier (author)2011-06-06

LIKE, LIKE, LIKE!!!! where's the like botton????, i need desperatelly to press it!!

computer_freak_8 (author)2011-05-23

I wouldn't have thought to use two-axis rotation, but I have thought about the possibility of using your "2nd axis" as the "only axis", and just covering the wheel with LED strips, or even just a low-resolution LED "screen" being rotated about that axis. Which would be easier to implement, the fewer-LED dual-axis or the many-LED single-axis?

dan (author)computer_freak_82011-05-23
single axis with a rotating panel of LEDs is much easier if you are starting from scratch. we only built ours this way because we already had the bicycle wheels covered with LEDs.

for example see:
dermaga_06 (author)2011-05-22


Valence_4 (author)2011-05-22

Had anyone ever tried to change the axis of a spinning bike wheel ? The precession forces are very high !!!

If you want to DIY a such project, be prepared to build a RIGID mount !!!! You'll need it !

sblank (author)2011-03-14

It really is quite something, but am I reading that price right? is the light piece 2000 dollar, because thats certainly out of most DIYers price range...

Mastros (author)2011-02-26

This is one of the most geniously inspired constructions I have seen here.

I am sure that, after the author has done the difficult part of inventing this idea, many of us can now start thinking of ways to add even more motions to the lights.

Andreus Felipen (author)2011-01-21

great thing!!!! I would like to make one, I love it :)

godofal (author)2010-11-18

i've seen one before though, but that one is small
and it has just 3 LED's
but this one's really cool since you can actually program it and make it show/do whatever you want it to do
awesome job!

santoolangeles (author)godofal2010-12-20

Ha yes. I saw that too and I really want to make one. Then I was doing a search for electrical slip ring and saw this instructable. Dan you, Dan! :) Very nice project indeed. Anyway we (I) could get more info on the slip ring assembly?

dan (author)santoolangeles2010-12-22

i bought a commercial slip ring made for small windmills, it was about $50. there seem to be several companies that make them if you google for it. some on ebay also.

Valence_4 (author)2010-11-25

Have you tried to change the rotation axis of a spinning bicycle wheel ?

This machine must be very well built, because precession forces will be enormous when both axes are in motion.!

bwool1 (author)2010-11-24

When watching the video, I kept waiting for it to fly apart or blow up... Very impressive machine you've got there though.

rpb (author)2010-11-22

Very cool!

Rotating the whole thing about the second (vertical) axis creates a pretty large torque, I imagine, which must be the cause of the high stresses and vibrations you see. I'd hate to be anywhere near if something worked loose, broke or jammed under those stresses!

I imagine if you had a lot more LEDs on the wheel you could spin along the first axis much slower to cover all the points (and maybe even get Princess Leia up!), which would reduce the stresses - in other words you could add LEDs to trade off price against stresses/strength.

Positron_Flux (author)rpb2010-11-22

Good point rpb. I agree. And to prove it, I'll back you up with some gloss-over physics.

Gyroscopic forces can reach very large values very easily by slightly increasing the rate of rotation (and consequently angular momentum).

In other words, slightly decreasing the rate at which the wheel spins would dramatically decrease the torque experienced by the thing spinning it around its second axis. That would increase the lifetime and safety of the machine.

t.rohner (author)Positron_Flux2010-11-24

Very nice instructable indeed.

To reduce the gyroscopic forces i would remove the spokes and the rim. Just use enough support for the Led PCB's. Because the farther away the mass is from the center of rotation, the more force is generated.

Actually I think both the first and second axis of spin have variable rates (correct me if I'm wrong) which means that instead of slowing it down, you'll just have to make it strong enough to handle the greatest load (max. allowed spin rate for both axes). That, or limit the speed within safe bounds.

bijikenyot (author)2010-11-22

very pretty jobs...
can it mix into winamp visualyzer?

dan (author)bijikenyot2010-11-22

not currently but it would be straightforward since all the control panel signals go through a laptop already.

singhtarandeep15 (author)2010-11-22

Its Nice........Interesting

bosherston (author)2010-11-21

Love it.

trgz (author)2010-11-21


merijnvw (author)2010-11-21

I have no words for it....

Edgar (author)2010-11-21

Great work, keep on inventing! :)

mickgoth (author)2010-11-21

LOVE IT.... what about putting sensors so your computer can read its exact position on the axis... then you should be able to do 3d text and other visuals

MiLeXx (author)2010-11-21

Vi uno parecido antes pero este esta mas elaborado! Genial!

TheFantastic (author)2010-11-21

awesome. Can you do 3d text?
I'd like to see 9 of them in a grid.
or 27 in a close set cube.

cowtasticfilms (author)2010-11-21

Great stuff.

ahmedebeed555 (author)2010-11-21

Coooooool !!!

coastus (author)2010-11-20

You can also use different strips. I found some information on LED strip light info , but what do I exactly need? What is the light intensity?

CrLz (author)2010-11-20

Great resolution, very nice clarity!

tinkerist (author)2010-11-18

can it be used to display an apparently still image? or a cohesive image? it's very cool either way, but i'd like to know if you could display, for instance, the image of a 3d head or something.

ciscu92 (author)tinkerist2010-11-19

I'm interested too

Ceiling cat (author)ciscu922010-11-19

I was wondering that, as well. Like in the James Bond movie "The World Is Not Enough" with the hololgram head of the villan that got shot.

Archive555 (author)Ceiling cat2010-11-19

It would be possibly, but you'd need to have each of the motors spinning at a very precise, measurable rate, and you'd need to have a computer constantly running some pretty hardcore calculations to figure out what should be lit up.

A simpler (simple, hah) method would be to simply have only the second axis used here, but have one half of the wheel (which does no longer spin) full of multicolored LEDs. This way, you can individually address each, and as they do not spin throughout another axis, it is far simpler to calculate what should be lit up.

laernmoer (author)2010-11-19

Any plans on building one not made of bike parts? are you making a custom one that CAN move at 3000rpm to provide a 3d image? that would be cool to see as well, looks like you've got the software side of it down. I'm an ME, so those parts would be hardest for me.

Pretty awesome design guys, mind if I ask how much this all cost?

Kaiven (author)2010-11-19


joespicnictables (author)2010-11-19

That is like super COOL! I'd try to make one if I had the parts.........

Darwinfish (author)2010-11-19

That is very cool indeed. Too bad it can't do the floating head thing, that would be so much more awesome than a teleconference/Skype: have your coworker's floating, whirring head atop a small box at the end of the table.

Peter Fnord (author)2010-11-18

You made it! Thnx

About This Instructable




Bio: Dan Goldwater is a co-founder of Instructables. Currently he operates MonkeyLectric where he develops revolutionary bike lighting products.
More by dan:Giant Xylophone made from Bed SlatsEasy Mothers Day Fudge (with small child)Mosaic Tile Pixel Art Car
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