PCubee Creates Virtual, 3D Display Case

Researchers have developed a five-paneled LCD cube that gives users the appearance that something is inside, allowing them to rotate the unit and look at an object in three dimensions. Called pCubee, it's the result of two years of work by students at the University of British Columbia.

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"If it's AutoCAD or 3D modeling objects, instead of looking at them on a regular desktop monitor, you can look at them inside the cube," said Ian Stavness, a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia. He said that it could also be useful for museums to use for virtual showcases. The three-dimensional effect will only work, though, if 3D data for the object is available.

In a demonstration at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Atlanta, the device displayed a globe and as the user rotated the box, different sides of the globe could be seen. Another demonstration turned the cube into a game, tilting and shaking the box to make a marble go through an obstacle course.

Stavness and his research partner Billy Lam, a master's student at the University of British Columbia, used Open Scene Graph and Nvidia PhysX to develop the project.

The box is small enough to hold in two hands, but since the team used LCD screens, pCubee has large seams at its corners. The researchers plan to further refine the project and use OLED panels to make the seams thinner. Another drawback is that the three-dimensional view can only be seen from a single vantage point. From other perspectives the image inside the box looks skewed.

One interesting feature of pCubee is that users can interact with what is inside the box using a stylus that the software recognizes. When the stylus is held next to the box, it shows up on the LCD displays, and then users can poke and prod what's inside.

While there are no official commercialization plans, the research pair do have some ideas.

"At the moment we're targeting the research market, but we're also thinking that this could make a great 3D game console," said Lam.

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