I was charmed by a strange little gaming device earlier this year at CES 2022. The WowCube is basically a digital Rubik’s Cube with 24 screens. Players can twist it to play puzzle games or put a picture on it and use it as a little conversation piece at home.
This comes at a time when we’re seeing a lot of video game gadgetry outside of the usual console giants. The Steam Deck revolutionizes the way gamers access PC games, the Analog pocket is a must-have for gamers with lots of old handheld games, and the crank-controlled Playdate is so odd that it has captured the curiosity of the gaming world. The WowCube exists in the same space as a toy-fusing device, video game consoles and tech gadgets in 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 gadget. It’s an incredibly impressive technical feat that could one day shape the world in very unexpected ways.
The most surprising thing about the WowCube is that it deftly delivers on its wild terrain. The device is a dense black box made up of eight cubes, with four screens on each side. When you turn it on, each screen lights up with a different app icon. Tap on it and the screens will light up with twist-controlled touch play.
Most of the games currently available on it are simple. In a game, players move a ball around the cube, collecting points. The rotation of the cube creates different paths for the ball to travel. Another title is a 3D version of 2048a 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 touch pad on an already addictive puzzle.
Although the current version works without a hitch, it took some time to figure out how to put it back 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 processors packed inside. As you can imagine, however, operating a rotating cube of screens was no easy task. It would take an inventor’s touch.
“You can’t put a processor, a battery and a motherboard and then connect them to 24 screens. There’s nothing on Earth that can support 24 screens at the same time as you change the geometry,” says Filin. “The heart of our project was to make the modules absolutely autonomous.”
I was truly shocked when Filin took the device apart entirely, breaking it down into individual cubes that still displayed separate visuals 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 at a docking station. Theoretically, the WowCube could be broken down into its component parts and reassembled as a 4×2 flat screen or any shape. Filin describes it as “the operating system for toys”, likening what they’ve created to the technology that powers smart devices like cars and refrigerators.
“It’s more than just a physical toy; it’s the distribution of eight stand-alone computers, and this technology is behind it,” says Filin.
Beyond the game
While the Cubios team will develop their own apps and games for the device, anyone can create their own. The company even hired a 20-year-old developer after creating an eight-ball magic 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 that the team isn’t big enough yet to meet the demand from interested developers.
When it comes to gaming devices, that might seem like a small niche – and it is. But like many new technologies, the WowCube is just getting started with video games, as it’s a proven way to engage users and keep them focused. When Filin begins to talk about the wider potential of the technology, his imagination begins to spin like the device itself.
“In 2019, I met a friend of mine who owns a clinic for people injured in car accidents,” Filin says. “He said ‘You have a device that could potentially be a great puzzle where you can change the difficulty.’ We could give puzzles to patients who want to recover from a head injury. You can put white here and white here. No buttons. You turn, you connect, it flashes, very easy. It’s brain development.
It is more than just a material toy; it is the distribution of eight autonomous computers, and this technology is behind it.
Filin goes on to list several other potential use cases, such as helping children with autism or adults with Alzheimer’s disease. He lists several verticals that Cubios pursues, some of which are surprising. As part of a long-term project, the team focused on early childhood development. Another might see the device used as a controller for smart home devices.
Of course, some recent buzzwords also come up in conversation.
“The Cube is what I call the perfect repository for your NFT collection,” says Filin, using the device’s aquarium-like display application as a potential example. “It shows your art. Or you can buy these fish or sell them as an NFT. You can reproduce them! I take a module with a fish and put it in another cube. They reproduce, I have a unique fish. It appears here in the aquarium.
Filin says the company already has the white label (a product or service made by a company that other companies rebrand) for ideas like that, and many more. However, he is not moving yet as he wants to stay focused on the game aspect for now. Since it’s an open-source platform, buyers won’t have the same limitations at launch. They will have access to eight autonomous computers that will be able to interact with each other.
Filin hopes to get the devices into people’s hands by Christmas, although the current component shortage could take its toll on a device made up of eight computers. If all goes well, people will be able to start pre-ordering it from April in most countries around the world. People in the US may have to wait a bit longer, though Filin notes that some distribution plans are in the works, with “soft confirmations” from some major retailers.
the WowCube may not replace your PlayStation 5, but if Cubios’ lofty aspirations come to fruition, it could become a multi-tool for the modern age.