“Electric moons”: The world’s biggest 3D information display

Everyone understands the idea of pixels; array ‘em in a 2D grid and presto, you’ve got an LCD screen for a laptop. But what about arraying them in a 3D grid, like a cube? You could display information in remarkably weirder ways — with icons that move forward and retreat, for example, or blobs that change shape as they track data.

I’ve seen a couple of great examples of this, mostly by students and fellows at NYU’s ultracool ITP, where my friend Tom Igoe teaches. One year I showed up at their open house and saw a cube with embedded LEDs created by James Clar; you can see a video of it in action online here. Another year I saw Glowbits, a set of glowing ping-pong-balls on sticks that you could raise or lower to create patterns — which would raise or lower corresponding ping-pong-balls on a similar display in front of another user. Imagine using that for instant messaging! Digital-age smoke signals!

Anyway, the point is that today I saw one of the weirdest 3D dislays ever — Electric Moons. The web site describes it thusly:

The “electric moOns” installation consists of 100 helium filled balloons. Each balloon is attached to a thin cable. The length of the cable and thus the floating hight of every balloon can be adjusted stepless with a cable winch from 0-5 meters. Additionally each balloon is lit from inside with dimmable superbright LEDs. The 100 balloon-voxels (volume pixels) are arranged in a 10x10 square (8x8 meters).

There are pictures of it here and a video of it in action. What I really want, though, is for someone to use a 3D display to create a video game. Transforming a puzzle game like Tetris or Bejeweled into a 3D format would fry my noodle.

(Thanks to Tod for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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