There’s just something fundamentally cool about images projected on water. If it’s drops of water instead of the surface, that's even better. If the images are in 3D – you might be onto something mind-blowing. So Carnegie

Mellon University's Robotics Institute has developed something that might be mind-blowing. AquaLux 3D creates 3D images by using multiple layers of precisely controlled water droplets.

The technology grew out of efforts to build safer car headlights, headlights that would make driving in the rain easier by ensuring that as much light as possible was able to shine through raindrops.

AquaLux 3D projects images on layers of timed drops of water. The layers are timed in such a way that drops in the front do not block drops behind them. Right now the system generates four layers of drops falling at 60 per second.

"By carefully generating several layers of drops so that no two drops occupy the same line-of-sight from the projector, we can use each drop as a voxel that can be illuminated to create a 3-D image," said Srinivasa Narasimhan, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon

The system will be used for displaying video images and text, and envisaged for use in interactive games, exhibitions and theme parks.

"One unique aspect of AquaLux 3D is the potential for physical interaction," Narasimhan said. "People can touch the water drops and alter the appearance of images, which could lead to interactive experiences we can't begin to predict. We look forward to the day when creative people can fully explore the potential of this display."

The researchers will discuss AquaLux 3D July 27 at SIGGRAPH, the 37th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, in Los Angeles.

By Mark Alvarez