The Cubatron JrTM
The original Cubatron (well, 5/9th's of it) now has a permanent home at the new
W Hotel in Dallas, Texas, second floor.
The Cubatron was the world's largest true
3D color graphics display from 2004-2006
(now overtaken by the Big Round Cubatron).
It is 8x8x8 feet in size. It consists of
729 voxels (3D pixels) arranged in a 9x9x9 matrix, spaced 10 inches
apart from each other. Each voxel is a 40mm diameter ball that can be
independently set to display a 21-bit RGB color. The entire display
can be updated about 30 times per second. The voxels "float" in space
so that the viewer can see through the cube and have a view of most of
the voxels from any position.
A unix box generates a variety of amazing stuff that is continuously displayed
on the Cubatron. There are currently over 35 effects lasting about 35 minutes
total. The show repeats continuously.
The Cubatron was on display at
2004 and 2005.
The Cubatron is 8x8x8 feet. It is held up by 4 guy wires, one at each
of the top corners of the cube. A "fence" 5 feet from each side of
the Cubatron keeps people from touching it, as it is fragile.
Thus it requires a footprint of approximately 18x18 feet.
The Cubatron only operates at night. A small gas generator is
located nearby for power.
There are 729 voxels. Each one has a microcontroller on it. There are
27 strings of 27 voxels. The voxels on each string have an address of 1
through 27. They are sent commands using a special synchronous protocol
which consists of a frame which contains RGB data for each of the
27 voxels on the string. A frame is sent on every string about 30 times
per second. The voxels take the last RGB value they got and PWM the RGB
LED to display the proper color.
A PC running FreeBSD generates the patterns to display. The PC
converts the RGB data into the 27 streams of data to be sent to each
string of voxels. It sends this data across an ethernet connection to
an ethernet printer server. The printer server's parallel port outputs
data to the voxel driver board. The voxel driver board has a PIC18F452
which demuxes the incoming data and sends it out to the 27 voxel strings
while maintaining proper timing for the synchronous protocol. The Cubatron
requires 100K bytes of data per second.
This is a picture of a prototype voxel (before it blew up) without the ping
pong ball attached, and one lit up blue with a ping pong ball on it. Each voxel has an
RGB LED on it that is controlled by a PIC12F629 microcontroller. The
LED is stuck inside a ping pong ball and glows at any color and
This is the batch of production voxel boards and the first string.
This is the driver box. It contains two power supplies,
a fan, and the driver circuit board sitting on top of the ethernet printer server.
This is the support structure that holds up all the strings of voxels, and a picture
of the final Cubatron running. Unfortunately I haven't figured out how to take a good
picture of it yet.
- Viewing area: 80x80x80 inches
- Colors: 2097152 in 21-bit mode or 4096 in 12-bit mode
- Update rate: 30hz (21-bit mode), 50hz (12-bit mode). all voxels update simultaneously.
- Voxels: 729 (9x9x9)
- Voxel size: 40mm
- Voxel pitch: 254mm
- Interface: Ethernet/IP/TCP/LPR
- Data rate: 100K bytes/second
- Power: 50W minimum, 500W when all white.
View Cubatron AVI video clips
Unfortunately, the colors did not come out well, but here are a few short clips:
The PIC microcontrollers are made by Microchip.
Many parts came from Digikey and
The RGB LEDs come from Nichia of Japan.
The prototype voxel and driver PCBs were made by BareBonePCB in Aurora, CO.
The production voxel PCBs were made by CustomPCB in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (not recommended for tight design rules)
The main power supplies (two 8V 30A) came from Surplus Sales of Omaha, NE.
Surplus surface mount capacitors and resistors came from Advanced Component Electronics in San Jose, CA.
The voxel PCB assembly and string wiring was done by Mentzer Electronics in Burlingame, CA.
The ping pong balls came from Online Sports.
Cubatron is a Trademark of Network Wizards used to describe three-dimensional lighting displays.