We've all seen those Hollywood motion-capture suits, with the little balls on them that computers track to create a 3D model of the wearer. Well, scientists at North Carolina State University have taken that same idea and applied it to a simple-but-highly-effective new system for manipulating 3D objects on a computer screen – it's called CAPTIVE.

The system relies on nothing more than a 3D-printed plastic cube which is moved by hand, along with a webcam of the type already found on most smartphones, plus custom software.

The cube has a differently-colored ball located at each corner, which the software tracks via the camera. By analyzing how each ball moves relative to the others, the system can tell how the cube is moving within three dimensions. That movement is applied to a 3D object displayed on the screen, which rotates in sync with the cube – in a full six degrees of freedom.

Not only is the technology cheap and simple, but it's also fast. There's virtually no latency between movements of the cube and corresponding movements of the image, reportedly allowing users "to rotate objects in three dimensions almost twice as fast as what is possible with competing technologies."

Potential uses for CAPTIVE include gaming, medical diagnostics and computer-aided design. It's demonstrated in the video below.

The research was led by Ph.D student Zeyuan Chen, and will be presented later this month at the Graphics Interface conference in Edmonton, Alberta.

Source: North Carolina State University