castAR, the “Oculus competitor”, gains $500,000 in three days on Kickstarter

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.

The castAR glasses (image coutesy of Technical Illusions)
The castAR glasses

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.

The castAR wand (image coutesy of Technical Illusions)
The castAR wand

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.

The AR & VR Clip-on is designed to allow castAR to function in amn Uvuls Rift-like manner
The AR & VR Clip-on is designed to allow castAR to function in an Oculus Rift-like manner (images:Technical Illusions and Netlinked Daily)

Continue reading “castAR, the “Oculus competitor”, gains $500,000 in three days on Kickstarter”

BURNing up in the desert

logoBURN2 opens for 2013 on Saturday October 19th and will run through until Sunday October 27th.

This year, the festival is again spread across six regions, all in the familiar desert theme, surrounded by sandy hills that add to the atmosphere and give more of a feel that the event is connected with the real life Burning Man festival.

A press preview day was held on Thursday October 17th, and I was one of those invited to attend. Circumstances meant I missed the initial meet and greet, and as the rest of the press had zoomed off to explore with their guides courtesy of the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles!), I opted for a more relaxed wander.

The Temple - BURN2
The Temple – BURN2

In keeping with the 2013 Burning Man event, this year’s theme is Cargo Cult, and while there was no absolute on builders having to create something in accordance with the theme, many have chosen to, and have thus offered-up many different  interpretations of the cult, some familiar and some not-so-familiar. So when you visit you’ll find a wide and intriguing variety of flying saucers, aircraft and more!

Notre Dame
Notre Dame des Beaux Paquets – BURN2

One of the more interesting aspects of the festival is that while the events of World War Two are often referred to as the start of the Cargo Cult, like many such global “movements”, there are many and varied instances of its alleged first occurrence, and this is reflected in many of the builds presented at BURN2. As such, it’s really worthwhile taking time out to read-up on the Juried Art entries, all of which offer a comprehensive description to the pieces, and which point to the wide range of inspiration for the builds.

Pelucida Lusch, Pat Perth and ZigsZags, for example, have collaborated together to create Notre Dame des Beaux Paquets, about which they note:

Cargo cults are far from being an obscure, colonial, Melanesian belief system. ‘Notre Dame des Beaux Paquets’ is, in essence, an allegory about our fragile notion of ‘beauty’, our obsessive pursuit of consumerist redemption as well as the limited imagination and  the unsustainable economic structure which supports it … both in this world and another.

It’s a compact, but impressive build, a tomb with an inscription from Shelley’s Ozymandias, from which rises a striking figure.

As well as the Cargo Cult themed builds, there are influences from across the world to be found. European, American, South American, Oriental …. they are all here, demonstrating the rich melting pot of culture BURN2 represents.

In keeping with the overall theme, The Man this year sits atop a flying saucer, with burns scheduled for Saturday October 26th. The Temple also keeps with the theme, but in a very different way, and will burn on Sunday October 27th.

The Temple has always been one of the major attractions for me at BURN2 events, and this one – which I understand underwent something of a revamp during the build process – is no exception; my images here don’t really convey its beauty, it really should be seen.

The Temple - BURN2
The Temple – BURN2

It is in some ways unfair to single-out particular builds at an event like this, where everyone has worked hard to present something everybody can enjoy during the festival, but I have to confess there were a number I was instinctively drawn to, and I am going to mention two here.

As a long-time admirer of Ultraviolet Alter, her installation was a must see for me. It’s an evocative piece, richly layered in both imagery and meaning. As ever, the fusion of visuals and audio has to be experienced to be appreciated.

Continue reading “BURNing up in the desert”