Back in May 2013, and courtesy of The Verge, I was able to report on the development of castAR, an Augmented Reality headset, a prototype of which made an appearance at the May 2013 Maker Faire in New York.
The project, initially started by Jeri Ellsworth and colleague Rick Johnson while both were employed by Valve, came about by accident. However, development work in-house at Valve came to an end in February 2013 when both Ellsworth and Johnson were let go by the company. But in a generous move, Gabe Newell, co-founder and Managing Director of Valve, gave them his blessings to take the idea and the associated IP with them.
As I reported back in May, convinced the idea had legs, Ellsworth and Johnson founded their own company, Technical Illusions, and have been hard at work developing things further.
The castAR system differs from the likes of Oculus Rift in that in its primary function is augmented reality, rather than immersive virtual reality. It projects images onto a retroreflective projector screen. A camera also built-in to the glasses tracks the exact position of your head so that the software can adjust the 3D perspective in real-time. The result is a holographic-like projection of images and objects from the computer as 3D objects which you can move around and examine.
At the time of the May 2013 Maker Faire, the team had managed to put together a very rough-and-ready prototype of the system, and have since been working to further refine the technology and the idea. In September, they were back in New York for another Maker Faire, where they were awarded blue and red ribbons with a win of Editors and Educators Choice. Buoyed by this, the team set-out to move ahead with their planned Kickstarter project in order to secure funding which would allow the work to continue and would hopefully see the system further refined, including the creation of a software development kit which might in turn help with adoption of the system.
The Kickstarter launched on October 14th, 2103 together with a video expanding on the idea and their plans. They’d hoped to raise $400,000 in a one-month period to November 14th, 2013.
As of October 18th, over $500,000 had been pledged by more than 2,000 people.
Interaction with the virtual projections can be achieved through both the use of traditional games controllers and joysticks, or via a dedicated “magic wand”. The latter allows for a wide range of interactions, with Sean Hollister of The Verge using it to play a virtual game of Jenga. Other elements, such as an RFID grid and “bases” which can be attached to physical objects allows such objects to be used within the virtual projection, with movement of such objects interactively plotted, etc.
As with Oculus Rift, uses for the system are potentially huge. Not only could castAR be used for computer games and virtual worlds, it might equally be used for playing board games (with players sitting anywhere in the world), or for it to be used in diverse fields as research, data visualisation work, 3D design, virtual worlds and so on.
For those wishing to experience more of an immersive, Occulus-like virtual reality experience, such as when using castAR in a virtual environment like Second Life, Technical Illusions are developing what they call the “AR & VR Clip on”. This allows users to dispense with the retroreflective surfaces and experience images projected onto a pair of screens, the result matching that of the Oculus Rift.