I was charmed by a strange little gaming device earlier this year at CES 2022. The WowCube is essentially a digital Rubik’s Cube with 24 screens. Players can twist it to play puzzle games or put an image onto it and use it as a neat little home conversation piece.
It comes at a time where we’re seeing lots of video game gadgets outside of the usual console giants. The Steam Deck is revolutionizing how players access PC games, the Analogue Pocket is a must-own for players with lots of old handheld games, and the crank-controlled Playdate is so strange that it’s captured the curiosity of the gaming world. The WowCube exists in that same space as a device that fuses toys, video game consoles, and tech gadgets into one device.
When I sat down with Max Filin, the CEO of WowCube creator Cubios, it immediately became clear that the black box is more than a cute gimmick. It’s a shockingly impressive technical feat that could shape the world in some very unexpected ways one day.
The most surprising thing about the WowCube is that it deftly delivers on its wild pitch. The device is a dense black box made up of eight cubes, with four screens on each side. When you fire it up, each screen lights up with a different app icon. Tap on one and the screens will light up with a tactile game that’s controlled by twisting.
Many of the current games available on it at present are straightforward. In one game, players move a ball around the cube, collecting points. Rotating the cube creates different pathways for the ball to move through. Another title is a 3D version of 2048, a puzzle game where players match numbers until they multiply up to 2048. The latter is what I ended up spending the most time with, as it’s a tactile twist on an already addictive puzzler.
While the current version works without a hitch, it took time to nail down how to piece it together. The original prototype of the device was much less graceful than the current version. It was a much bulkier box with thick plastic bordering each screen. It was a low-resolution device with Arduino CPUs packed inside. As you might imagine, though, getting a rotating cube of screens to work was no easy task. It would require an inventor’s touch.
“You can’t put one CPU, one battery, and one motherboard in and then wire them to 24 screens. There’s nothing on Earth that can support 24 screens at the same time as you change the geometry,” Filin says. “The core of our project was to make the modules absolutely autonomous.”
I was genuinely shocked when Filin disassembled the device entirely, breaking it down into individual cubes that still displayed visuals apart from the rest of the components. The team had essentially found a way to create eight computers that would connect to each other via magnets and charge on one dock. Theoretically, the WowCube could be broken down to its components and reassembled as a flat 4×2 screen or really any shape. Filin describes it as “the operating system for toys,” likening what they’ve created to tech that powers smart devices like cars and refrigerators.
“It’s way more than just a hardware toy; it’s the distribution of eight autonomous computers, and this technology is behind it,” Filin says.
While the team at Cubios will develop its own apps and games for the device, anyone will be able to create their own. The company even hired one 20-year-old developer after she made a magic eight-ball app where users could ask the cube a question and twist it to get an answer. The only reason WowCube isn’t widely open to developers yet is because the team isn’t big enough yet to keep up with the demand from interested devs.
As far as gaming devices go, it might sound a little niche — and it is. But like a lot of new tech, the WowCube is only starting with video games, because it’s a tried-and-true way to bring users in and a way to stay focused. When Filin begins talking about the wider potential for the tech, his imagination starts twisting around like the device itself.
“In 2019, I met a friend of mine who owns a clinic for people who are injured in car accidents,” Filin says. “He said ‘You have a device that could potentially be a super puzzle where you can change the difficulty.’ We could give puzzles to patients who want to recover from a head injury. We can put white here and white here. No buttons. You twist, you connect, it blinks, very easy. It’s brain development.”
It’s way more than just a hardware toy; it’s the distribution of eight autonomous computers, and this technology is behind it.
Filin goes on to list several more potential use cases, like helping kids with autism or adults with Alzheimer’s disease. He lists several verticals that Cubios is pursuing, some of which are surprising. One long-term project has the team focused on early childhood development. Another could see the device being used as a controller for smart home devices.
Of course, some recent buzzwords come up in the conversation too.
“The cube is what I call the perfect depot for your NFT collection,” Filin says, using the device’s aquarium-like display app as a potential example. “It shows your art. Or you could buy those fish or sell them like an NFT. You can breed them! I take one module with a fish and put it to another cube. They breed, I have a unique fish. It appears here in the aquarium.”
Filin says that the company already has the white label (a product or service produced by one company that other companies rebrand) for ideas like that, and many more. However, it’s not moving on them yet as it wants to remain focused on the gaming aspect for now. Considering that it’s an open-source platform, though, buyers won’t have the same limitations at launch. They’ll have access to eight autonomous computers that can interact with one another.
Filin hopes to get devices into people’s hands by Christmas, though the current component shortage has a way of wreaking havoc on a device made up of eight computers. If all goes well, people will be able to start pre-ordering it starting in April in most of the world. Folks in the U.S. may have to wait a little longer, though Filin notes that some distribution plans are in the works, with “soft confirmations” from some big retailers.
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