WOWCube Game System Team talked about its device, shared how the came up with merging educational toys and technology and discussed the technical approach to its production and content creation.
About Ilya’s Career and WOWCube Game System
Ilya Osipov is known as a founder and owner of one of the largest websites in Russian, NN.RU, which he later sold to the Hearst Corporation. He was also the co-founder, investor, mentor, and manager of a number of startup projects such as Numbuster, FedSP.com, etc.
Since he was a student, Ilya was fond of coding and in 1996 even won the All-Russian Olympiad in Informatics. Ilya graduated from Nizhny Novgorod State University and has a Master of Science degree. He is an author of 18 scientific publications and has been awarded four patents. He was nominated for the World Technology Award in IT Hardware for the WOWCube™ Game System in 2018 and became one of the finalists of world-renowned Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition in 2018 for his Auzzle A2 puzzle.
Ilya relocated with his family to the USA in 2013. He lives in Novato, California with his wife and two children. In 2017, Ilya together with his son Savva invented the WOWCube™ Game System platform and founded Cubios Inc. to develop his invention.
The team is international. Several team members are based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The application development and the Hardware development team is based in Russia. We have a team member in China as well to track the manufacturing of the WOWCube System.
Mixing Educational Toys and Video Games
I can say that I have always loved 3D puzzles, and a mechanical puzzle I developed won a prize in the global puzzle design competition.
The whole house was full of different puzzles, moreover, I was engaged in IT for many years, and we are together with my son, took part in a computer contest based on Arduino, and Raspberry Pi.
My son, who was 12 years old, gave the idea of the WOWCube system.
I and Savva discussed the idea of Sifteo, its concept, pros, and cons. Savva noticed that it would be more interesting to make screens not on separate cubes, but on a single Rubik’s cube. And the game characters could run from screen to screen. The way to control them would be the turns, as in the Rubik’s cube. Yes, it’s more difficult but it would definitely be more interesting.
Technical Approach to the System
The most difficult part was the topology of the device. Not only did it need to rotate mechanically like a Rubik’s Cube, but it also needed to do so while supporting electrical and mathematical integrity.
How would we place microprocessors inside the device? How would we make the parts understand their current relative position? How would we provide data transfer and synchronize operations? How would we make the environment work as a single device while performing distributed computing?
In the end, there are 8 processors in the device. All this required an unusual approach. When I wrote the first C++ program for an early prototype, I was literally dizzy.
It was necessary to create mapping matrices of the faces of different screens and to ensure their re-calculation after any rotation done by the user. The first thing done was an analog of the game Digger. When the Digger began to successfully run from screen to screen, I realized that the concept was right, and everything was feasible.
There was also a very big question of how to make reliable connections between the parts of the device. Inspired by Apple’s MagSafe, I designed magnetic connections with self-orientating magnetic contacts, which, unlike MagSafe’s male to female connections, had unisex connections. This allowed any part inside the cube to connect evenly and perfectly to each other, no matter how the cube is rotated. All these were just conceptual models.
They received practical implementation when the chief engineer, Semyon Orlov, joined the project. He applied my ideas in practice to finalize the prototype. The first prototype was printed on an in-house 3D printer just to prove the concept.
The WOWCube System consists of eight autonomous modules, each with its own microprocessors inside. It has 24 high-resolution screens. There are multiple magnetic connectors on each module that allow the data to be transferred between autonomous modules on the fly. This allows objects to literally step from one module to another.
A game or application is a decentralized distributed system that works on 8 devices, moreover, the topology of their connection is changed by the user. The operating system maintains the integrity of everything.
We had to invent special magnetic connectors to make reliable connections between modules, which work well in such conditions and allow the cube to charge as a single integral device from one point.
Keeping the Flexibility of the Toy
The WOWCube system is an innovative electro-mechanic twisty game console that looks like a 2 x 2 version of a Rubik’s Cube. It consists of eight autonomous modules combined together in a way that enables them to be rotated by four in a layer around three mutually perpendicular axes in a way that resembles a Rubik’s Cube. Despite the fact that every module of the WOWCube system is autonomous they are connected to each other sharing data. There are multiple smart connectors on each module that allow the data to be transferred between autonomous modules on the fly. There are four connectors on the inner side of each module interfacing with the three adjacent modules. These smart connectors enable data sharing and distributing low voltage power across the WOWCube system.
Let’s now see how it works.
The connector consists of a small, neodymium magnetic ball, an iron washer and an external aperture in a plastic liner which is slightly smaller than that of the ball. This limits the ball’s movements and helps prevent it from falling out. An external pressure throws the ball inside the connectors capsule. While the pressure disappearing brings the ball back to its equilibrium point. The ball’s magnetic field acts like a spring, attracting the iron washer, which keeps the ball in a balanced position inside the washer. When two modules are close enough, their neodymium magnetic balls are attracted to each other turning the opposite poles. When modules are rotated, their neodymium magnetic balls come back to the starting position inside the washer’s hole. This same scenario repeats every time two modules are approaching each other. But this asks the question, “How do they connect their parent modules to each other to let them share data between modules?
The truth is that at some point, the magnetic ball is naturally attached to the iron washer in its neutral position letting the position “rest”. Being electrically conductive, the balls transfer electric signals from their respective parent modules. When two modules are close enough, their neodymium magnetic balls attach to each other which seals in contact and the transferring of data between the modules. When modules are rotated, contacts break, which stops data transfer between modules for a while. The next contact sealing renews the data transfer. The same scenario repeats every time when modules lock into contact.
About the Software
Our company has built an operating system from scratch, and this is where things get interesting. The operating system allows each cube to act independently, but it can also interact with other cubes and share data. Moreover, the operating system can scale up to handle as many cubes as necessary and in any configuration, a licensee could want. So frankly speaking, it doesn’t matter if it is a 2-by-2 or 3-by-3 model cube or even if it looks like a snake. The operating system will be able to manage and control how the cubes in the device interact, making it a powerful platform for all sorts of potential devices. Distributed computing occurs in parallel with 8 modules. The operating system maintains its integrity. At the same time, it allows you to reconfigure the device, and configuration can be changed all the time. Geometrically it is in constant change by the user.
Furthermore, the operating system prioritizes the user’s actions. For example, while a smartphone or a computer can ignore user input if it isn’t ready, our device cannot ignore being turned.
Working on the Content
Our team has already designed many different games like Butterflies, Steam Pipes, Pong and 2048. These games represent different genres like arcade, maze, puzzle, word, and classical educational games.
We have developed the operation system, an open API and a Software Development Kit to allow independent developers to create their own applications and make it available for download through the WOWCube Application store. Anyone who wants to play more games can download any application on the WOWCube Application store to the device. And anyone who wants to develop an application could do so by using the SDK.
We will announce a special campaign for the developers to join our community.
Adjusting the Games for the Cube
Heroes, game characters move from side to side. You control the game by switching geometry. With the holes such on the top and at the bottom, it could be used as a game challenge and it’s not available in other gaming devices.
We could change the complexity of the game scene and the script of the game in real-time. We can even make the games multiplayer by playing together, tracking each other’s scores, or share a replay of a completed game.
We are not talking about the game adjusting. As the device is unique and the game-play is the whole cube surface all games are to be developed from scratch. We can use only fragments of the code. Also, we can use the graphic design and the sounds.
At this moment all the games are developed by our team and our partners' companies. But we have plans to publish the SDK which includes the game development environment, the cube emulator for all who wish to develop the game or the application.
When developing new or processing existing titles for our platform, we, first of all, try to think about geometry, the specific control of our platform. The game must become naive for the cube so that it plays naturally.
For example, the game should be symmetrical and use all 6 surfaces of the cube approximately on an equal footing, be controlled naturally and intuitively. For example, we even developed some control techniques such as an inertial interface specifically for our platform, along with tilting, turnings and more.
About the Multifunctionality of the System
The WOWCube system is not just a Gaming platform. When you are not using it, you can put it onto the charging dock and it connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. And it is always online. Put it near your PC, and you can basically use each of these 24 screens to show any information you need like currency exchange rates or the weather. It can even be a Smart night lamp.
You can even link it to your Instagram account, and it can be a digital photo frame, showing your friend’s photos. Or it can be a digital aquarium. You can put fish or other pets in the aquarium, feed it by tapping the top, and watch it grow over time. Or it can be a digital fireplace or a growing flower. You can even send the digital flower or any digital gift to your significant other. In other words, it can be an element of decor, and you can put it on a nightstand if your child is afraid of sleeping in the dark.
We plan to announce the product launch this year in August or September. It will be a pre-ordering campaign. One of the main goals is to involve developers to have more applications for the WOWCube system the better. We definitely are interested n any type of collaborations with gaming companies. As an example, we’ve signed recently the contract with ZeptoLab and we will have their favorite Om Nom on the WOWCube System.