Surf’s Up, A Styrofoam Ball Rides The Waves To Create A Volumetric Display

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We are big fans of POV displays, particularly ones that move into 3D. To do so, they need to move even faster than their 2D cousins. [danfoisy] built a volumetric display that doesn’t move LEDs or any other digital display through space, or project light onto a moving surface. All that moves here is a bead of styrofoam and does so at up to 1 meter per second. Having low mass certainly helps when trying to hit the brakes, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

danfoisy vdatp 3d simulation

[danfoisy] and son built an acoustic levitator kit from [PhysicsGirl] which inspired the youngster’s science fair project on sound. See the video by [PhysicsGirl] for an explanation of levitation in a standing wave. [danfoisy] happened upon a paper in the Journal Nature about a volumetric display that expanded this one-dimensional standing wave into three dimensions. The paper described using a phased array of ultrasonic transducers, each with a 40 kHz waveform.

After reading the paper and determining how to recreate the experiment, [danfoisy] built a 2D simulation and then another in 3D to validate the approach. We are impressed with the level of physics and programming on display, and that the same code carried through to the build.

[danfoisy] didn’t stop with the simulations, designing and building control boards for each 100 x 100 grid of transducers. Each grid is driven by 2 Intel Cyclone FPGAs and all are fed 3D shapes by a Raspberry Pi Zero W. The volume of the display is 100 mm x 100 mm x 145mm and the positioning of the foam ball is accurate down to .01 mm though currently there is considerable distortion in the positioning.

Check out the video after the break to see the process of simulating, designing, and testing the display. There are a number of tips along the way, including how to test for the polarity of the transducers and the use of a Python script to place the grids of transducers and drivers in KiCad.

danfoisy vdatp schematic  danfoisy vdatp board layout

But wait, there’s more. There are 3 watt RGB LEDs at each upper corner of the display volume with PWM control to illuminate the foam ball, adding 7-bits of color information to each voxel. The original paper used this same phased array for haptic feedback and audible sound, but [danfoisy] says implementation of that right now just won’t fly. All the board files and code are on GitHub, so let us know where you take this next.



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