Virtual Lathe

Michael Frank Deering: VR: Virtual Lathe


The Virtual Lathe was an early Virtual Reality demo I did at Sun using the system described in High Resolution Virtual Reality. The idea was that the tip of the 3D mouse was a virtual lathe bit that would cut into the rotating virtual stock hovering in front of the user. When the tip bit into the stock, virtual sparks would fly off and a loud grinding sound would be made. This demo was very popular, and showed off how good calibration between the headtracking, wand-tip tracking, and the stereo display was. Other subtile implementation details helped: as the tip bit deeper, the number of sparks (a particle system of antialiased vectors) would increase, and the deepness of the grinding sound would increase.

Interesting Tidbit

We recorded the grinding sound effect by recording a real grinding tool cutting into a scrap piece of aluminum. As usual, this was happening at 2 am in my office at Sun, and we had to do several takes. The loud unusual noise attracted the night security watchman, who eventually believed our explanation of what we were doing. This leads to Deering’s #3 rule of late night hacks: “always make friends with the current night watchmen in your building ahead of time”.


There were no specific publications on the Virtual Lathe per-say, but it was described in the High Resolution Virtual Reality SIGGRAPH paper, and eventually became a tool mode available in HoloSketch. The Virtual Lathe was referenced in several other papers on Virtual Reality as a good demonstration of effective pure VR modeling interfaces.