Buckminster Fuller Challenge Entry

This design science solution is inspired by Buckminster Fuller's concept for a Geoscope. It was submitted as an application for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge on October 30 2007.

On January 11, 2008 my entry advanced to the second stage of the selection process.

For more information see:
Spheriphor Main Page
Buckminster Fuller Challenge
Advanced to 2nd Stage
Q and A - Dome Projection System
Fulldome Visual Acuity
Spheriphor Study 01
Spheriphor Study 02
Spheriphor Study 03
Spheriphor Study 04
Spheriphor Study 05
Spheriphor Study 06
The term SPHERIPHOR and the special spelling SPHΘRIPHΦR using the Greek letters phi (Θ) and theta (Φ) are trademark words coined by the author/inventor Thomas J. Greenbaum as a compound of the words "SPHERIcal" and "metaPHOR." Included in the Spheriphor Studies are 3D images and animations rendered with POV-Ray. Examples of POV-Ray scene description language source code is provided "as is" for the reader to use and experiment with.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.




Problem and Preferred State

This design science solution offers an innovative method for projecting data on a half-sphere (full-dome) Geoscope. The intent is to realize the Geoscope vision of R. Buckminster Fuller as stated in his book Critical Path, “With the Geoscope humanity would be able to recognize formerly invisible patterns and thereby to forecast and plan in vastly greater magnitude than heretofore.” Fuller correctly anticipated trends in science supporting the need to visualize complex information for the resolution of critical globe spanning issues. However, Fuller’s Geoscope design for a suspended, computer-controlled, globe for large audiences remains mostly unfulfilled.

Recent technology advancements includ virtual globes (for example Google Earth) and digital dome projection systems. There are more than 250 digital dome planetariums in the US alone. Their inside-out viewing capabilities are inspiring. Complete digital dome systems cost a fraction of what Fuller estimated for a large-scale Geoscope in 1962. However, an outside-in viewable, suspended Geoscope awaits a first-time practical implementation in the solution presented here.

Trends in technology now make available proven and low-cost components required to implement a Geoscope on the scale of a high-school basketball court. For example, at the Intel Rio Grande Innovation Centre, where I am Director, we have an integrated display using nine LCD screens controlled by a single powerful desktop computer. Similar computer hardware can be adapted to create a small scale Geoscope.

In my solution a Geoscope is implemented in accordance with holistic systems thinking using a full-dome projection system mounted on a fully-transportable, light-weight self-deploying frame. Small, powerful projectors are arranged symmetrically around the outside of a translucent dome to enable a high-resolution, dynamic display of complex, Earth spanning, data sets.

Attached images show the Geoscope deployed on an indoor high-school basketball court. A large audience is capable of viewing hemispherical projections of the Earth nearly unobstructed. Because projectors are outside of the dome projecting inward, the interior of the dome is completely unobstructed for a small number of occupants to participate in a 360-degree immersive experience.

Complimenting the holistic systems approach, a novel spherical metaphor for multi-dimensional data visualization on the Geoscope shall be developed using PROCESSING open source programming language ( www.processing.org ). A spherical metaphor, or to coin a term “Spheriphor,” addresses the need for displaying data that is not necessarily geo-referenced.

Visualizing geo-referenced data overlaid on virtual Earth globes has enormous benefit. However, the Spheriphor software application running on the Geoscope offers an additional opportunity to visualize high-density, multi-dimensional data with non-GIS metaphors. See my technology demonstration to the 5th International Symposium on Digital (ISDE5) on my website at: www.karmatetra.com/isde5

A 3D animation on YouTube demonstrates the solution http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neeC23RW1B0  The animation and the attached images illustrate the meta-physical Spheriphor design implemented on the physical Geoscope thus creating a cognitively empowering environment. The intent is to enhance humans’ ability to interface with multi-dimensional data sets using a full-dome, outside-in, projection system.

The Spheriphor improves upon spreadsheet charts that use mostly rectangular, flat display formats. The Geoscope alleviates inside-the-box, constrained thinking using a Cartesian framework to visualize data. The Spheriphor opens a door to a new world of rich visual metaphors based on spherical geodesic geometry and a Whole Systems Framework.

A Spheriphor instantiation provides a project tracking interface for the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) Design Revolution Project Library. BFI tracks a large number of design artifacts ranging from micro-cosmic nanostructures to macro-cosmic global infrastructure solutions. The Spheriphor application empowers the Design Science Revolution and the Design Science Planning Process by making visible heretofore non-visible patterns of rapidly advancing technology in a multi-person, collaborative and educational environments.

The BFI Design Revolution Project Library Spheriphor uses spherical coordinates to visualize multi-dimensional data on the Geoscope. In this instantiation, phi φ (zenith angle or latitude) represents the Design Science Planning phase. The Define Problem phase is close to zenith and the Develop Artifacts phase is close to the horizon. Theta θ (azimuth angle or longitude) represents the macro-to-micro scale of the design artifact.

Description Of Solution And Implementation Plan

Anticipating the recent trend in digital projection and computer-controlled, servo technology, a design solution for a fully-transportable, self-deploying, outside-in viewable, digital dome for large audiences is now obtainable with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components. The plan is to implement a system configuration of COTS components wherever possible to reduce cost, enable easy replication and encourage broad adoption.

The solution uses multiple high-resolution, compact, high-intensity projectors controlled by a powerful desktop computer. Combined image resolution with current off-the-shelf technology is approximately 8-10 megapixels.

A fully-articulated framework supports the dome projection system. Projectors are symmetrically positioned around the outside of a translucent dome. The dome, approximately 3.4 meters in diameter, is hung from the same frame. The framework is self-deploying on a smooth floor

The plan uses relatively low-cost COTS computer-controlled servos. The framework of light weight aluminum extrusion has hinged and sliding joints that are manipulated using these servos. The servos enable the framework to assume a variety of geometries.

One configuration arranges the projectors symmetrically around the exterior of a translucent dome suspended at the volumetric center of the framework. Another configuration positions the projectors at a uniform height pointing downward onto a large Fuller Dymaxion map. In this way, the Geoscope adds value to the BFI Design Science Lab which already uses such a map in its educational program. The large Dymaxion map will gain an interactive, dynamic data set projected onto its surface.

The entire framework when deployed to support full-dome projection is 10.6 meters in diameter. A wheeled base enables the framework to roll on a smooth floor. In the folded state it encompasses a small volume which is easily shipped.

Sliding joints provide a method of adjusting the dome height. Adjustment of the dome height accommodates a variety of different venues; from an intimate, fully-immersive venue with viewers situated beneath the dome, to venues with large audiences viewing the dome from the outside.

The design solution locates projectors omni-symmetrically around the exterior of a translucent dome at a calculated minimum radial distance from the dome surface thereby optimizing projection characteristics for a dome of this size.

Projection areas are based on a geodesic spherical polyhedron which offers several benefits including simplified UV mapping, minimal projection area overlap feathering, and optimized pixel resolution.

Financing And Economic Viability

I am Director of the Intel Innovation Centre in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. The objective of the centre is to encourage and support the introduction leading-edge products, solutions and usage models. The centre is expected to reach out to the community and 50% of all projects are ideally in collaboration with external entities. I have also built a visualization lab whose mission aligns perfectly with this project.

Should I receive the award then matching funds are possible from various Intel R&D sources. An Intel colleague, Luciano Oviedo is currently discussing funding options with Intel Capital and the University of New Mexico Science & Technology Corporation.

Intel Information Technology employees are encouraged to volunteer time and talent to implement out-of-the-box thinking and solutions through a Risk Taking and Innovation (RTI) program. Funds are available to employees supporting their RTI initiatives. A good possibility exists that RTI program participants will volunteer help for the design, development and implementation of this solution.

Hardware and software design shall be completely open source thereby facilitating critical assessment and rigorous testing by subject matter experts, and will further long-term evolution and viability of the design.


  • University of New Mexico:
    • $10K Faculty Buy-Out/Management
    • $20K Architecture Student Employees
    • $5K ARTS Lab Employee
  • Other:
    • $5K Storage Facility/Workspace
    • $35-45K Materials and Supplies
  • Project Manager:
    • $15K Tom Greenbaum

Strategic Partners

  • Eric Whitmore, Program Coordinator, University of New Mexico, Art Research Technology Science (ARTS) Laboratory. A leader in new media strategic development. Recently nominated by the New Mexico Information Technology and Software Association (NMITSA) as a 2007 IT Excellence Award Finalist. The ARTS Lab has an experimental 15 foot diameter Sky Skan digital dome. http://artslab.unm.edu
  • Tim Castillo, Assistant Professor, University of New Mexico, College of Architecture and Planning. Won the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) 2006-2007 New Faculty Teaching Award. The College of Architecture is a resource to hire students with access to a CNC milling machine and a Laser Cutter for rapid prototyping.
  • Luciano Oviedo, Program/Project Manager, Intel Corporation. Founder of the New Mexico chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. Partnering with http://www.highdesertventurecamp.com to provide a "business plan bootcamp" training entrepreneurs on taking an idea to venture in a structured/methodical process.

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The following six images are thumbnails which link to larger images. High-resolution versions of these six images were uploaded to the Buckminster Fuller Challenge application.

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Copyright © 2012 by Tom Greenbaum. Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved
email: tom@karmatetra.com

Albuquerque, New Mexico