Built from car parts and pure imagination, the SplashDisplay prototype display was featured last week at the SIGGRAPH conference and exhibition computer graphics and interactive techniques in Los Angeles. In the dark, the touchable display resembles a futuristic, exploding Lite-Brite.

'Touchy' Shows Us How Out Of Touch We Are

Yasushi Matoba, a PhD candidate specializing in human-computer interaction innovation at the University of Electro-Communications in Japan, led the group that created the SplashDisplay. Speaking from SIGGRAPH through an interpreter, he described the inspiration as being simply wanting to show an image in the air.

The display consists of a small bed containing tiny foam beads. A blower made from a speaker creates air bursts, sending the beads skyward in circular patterns. Projectors mounted on the top and front highlight the white beads with colors, emphasizing the splashes. Visitors can stand back or interact directly with the flying beads.

If the beads are still, the display becomes a stationary screen. However, the flying beads can sail fairly high, causing a firework effect as they fall. When asked about the advantage SplashDisplay has over other 3-D displays, Matoba said that others don't "explode" like this one.

Largest Flexible Display Debuts

 For the splash effects, the team used a motor that makes power windows in cars work. Matoba, a former automotive engineer with a background in biology and art, said his team only used the mechanism for the prototype shown in L.A., though.

Next, he said he would like to use SplashDisplay to replicate the Princess Leia hologram in 3-D that R2D2 carried around in Star Wars. And, unlike other attempts to reproduce that hologram, maybe his could explode into tiny little round beads at the end of her plea.

Photos: Kids interact with the SplashDisplay. Credit: Toshiki Sato