Lab extends Concierge Live Chat to all Premium members

secondlifeMonday, August 17th saw the Lab slip out notice of the latest Premium membership sign-up discount under the headline Get 50% Off Premium Membership – Now with Even Better Support.

Previously appearing on a roughly quarterly basis, these offers / drives seem to have switched to bimonthly events since April 2015, which aligns them nicely with Halloween  and Christmas for the purposes of gift-giving.

Of particular interest to Premium members is the “even better support” mentioned in the headline, which the post expands thus:

Starting today, Premium Members can now receive support by live chatting directly with the Linden Lab Concierge Support team. This is the same team of Lindens that Estate owners speak to when they need help, and now all Premium Members have access to this level of support.

For those not already a Premium member, the discount period runs through until 08:00 SLT on Monday the 24th of August 2015.

Note that the discount is only available when signing-up to the monthly billing plan, and is only applicable to the first month’s payment, reducing it to US $5.00 (+VAT, if applicable). Payments thereafter revert to the usual US $9.95 (+ VAT, if applicable).

This marks the second time the discount has been applied to the monthly billing plan, the first having been in April 2015, with the June discount offer switching back to the “traditional” quarterly plan.  Whether this  means we’ll be seeing the offer alternate between monthly and quarterly plans with future discount offers, or whether the Lab is simply gauging which generates the greater interest, remains to be seen.

Second Life project updates 34/1: server and viewer updates

Baby's Ear; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrBaby’s Ear, July 2015 (Flickr) – blog post

Server Deployments

As usual, updates and feedback may be available through the forum deployment thread.

There was no main channel roll on Tuesday, August 18th. The LeTigre and Magnum release candidate channel will also remain as they are for week #34.

The BlueSteel release channel received a new server maintenance package on Wednesday, August 19th, which includes internal improvements for inventory performance.

Commenting on the changes rolling to BlueSteel, at the simulator User Group meeting on Tuesday, August 18th, Simon Linden said:

If you notice anything on the Bluesteel RC channel after the roll, please file a jira on it with all the info you can about time and place and what happened … these changes aren’t about per[mission]s, I believe, but items and folders getting mixed up … Someone dug deep into the inventory system and identified some problems and tried to fix them.

The mention of permissions in his description of the update was the result of a question on whether the update would correct “perms bypassing”,  which he addressed directly:

I know there’s been some talk about permission issues but from what we can tell, there are no _new_ permission problems. The best advice I can give is that you have to be extra careful about changing permissions in inventory (or in an object inventory) and then transferring it before it gets rezzed. And what I mean by “be extra careful” is, “don’t do that.” 

There is a possible conflict if you change permissions while in inventory, and then pass it (without rezzing) to someone else.  In that case, the “next owner” permissions can conflict with what you tried to set, so the result may not be what you expect. That’s been around forever and is often the reason people end up making copyable objects that they want “no-copy”.

 SL Viewer Updates

On Tuesday, August 18th, the Lab promoted the summer Maintenance RC viewer, version as the de facto release viewer. This viewer includes over 50 maintenance fixes and update – please refer to the release notes for details.

The anticipated arrival of the Avatar Complexity / Graphics Presets project viewer in week #33 failed to occur, so perhaps it will arrive later in week #34.

CastAR announce US $15 million funding

The CastAR banner
The castAR website banner

CastAR, formerly Technical Illusions, the company behind the augmented reality castAR headset with a VR capability and which I’ve been covering in this blog, has announced the completion of a US $15 million round of funding.

Former Valve employees  Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson founded the company in 2013 after being let go by Valve – and given the blessings of Gabe Newell, Valve’s founder and Managing Director, to take the IP used within castAR with them.

Since then, they’ve been developing the headset with the aim of producing a low-cost, self-contained AR system initially aimed at games and entertainment, but with a wide range of other potential applications – including VR, through the addition of a clip-on that allows for wide field-of-view VR experiences.

The Development Kit / Kickstarter version of the CastAR headset
The Development Kit / Kickstarter version of the castAR headset (image via Engadget)

The early stages of the company’s work was largely funded by a Kickstarter campaign in late 2013 which raised just over US $1 million. This provided sufficient capital to get the company running, albeit on the small scale, and in October 2014, they were able to start shipping the first of the Developer / Kickstarter backer kits whilst also relocating from Seattle, Washington, to Mountain View, California, a move overseen by the newly hired CEO, David Henkel-Wallace.

However, fulfilling the obligations of the Kickstarter campaign has been difficult – so far the company has only been able to produce and ship around 1/3 of the pledged headsets. The Series A round of funding, which has been chiefly backed by Playground Global, co-founded by Andy Rubin of Android Inc. fame, will enable the company to take on staff, complete its Kickstarter obligations and lay the foundations for the future.

The news of the investment round was announced to Kickstarter backers in a personal note from Jeri and Rick, which reaffirms their commitment to their original supporters, reading in part:

What does this mean for Kickstarter? Delivery! We remain committed, as we always have, to giving our Kickstarter backers a high quality product and experience. Of course with only nine people and an ambitious engineering plan, it clearly has taken us longer than we had planned, but among other things, this investment will make sure we complete the Kickstarter in the next several months.

We recognise every day that we would not be where we are at without the support of you, our backers. You believed in us when we put together a video showing a product of 90% hot glue, some friends using it, and some crude software. That support reassured us that we weren’t crazy, and it helped send investors the message that there is significant excitement for castAR.

The conceptualised castAR production headset and VR clip-on system (image: Technical Illusions)
The conceptualised castAR production headset and VR clip-on system (image: CastAR)

The slightly ungainly – at least in its development form – headset uses projectors mounted on it to bounce light of a retro-reflective surface in an effect Ellsworth came across by accident, setting her with the initial idea for the system. The light from the projectors is delivered back to the wearer’s eyes through active-shutter glasses which also track the user’s position, allowing the projection to be updated in real-time.

Projections seen when wearing the headset appear as holographic elements directly in front of the user’s field of vision, which can then be manipulated via a “wand” hand controller.  Because the retro-reflective material bounces light back to its origin, multiple users can use the same surface simultaneously without experiencing any interference from other headset, allowing multiple headsets to be used in the same physical space for game play or other activities.

A key aim of the headset is to be affordable, ease-to-use system which users of all ages can immediate grasp conceptually and use with ease.

“When we say a consumer product, we mean a consumer price point,”  Henkel-Wallce told when discussing the funding announcement. “The Oculus headset is only a few hundred dollars but then you need a $1000 PC to run your games. That’s not a consumer product, that’s not something you’re giving to your kids.

Making CastAR fun, affordable and self-contained is key to the unit's success
Daivd Henkel-Wallace: Making CastAR fun, affordable and self-contained seen as key to the unit’s success

“Our vision is that Christmas day Grandma has bought these for the kids, they tear open the paper, they open the box, they’re eight and ten years old, they put down the game board and within a minute they’re playing. That’s where we want to get to.”

It was this approach which attracted Playground Global’s interest, with Rubin stating, “I was really intrigued by [their] approach to tackling the problem of how to drive mainstream adoption of AR. They’re the only company I found to be simplifying the utility and application of augmented and virtual reality technology into a fun, accessible, and portable system that will wow kids and adults alike.”

The company’s change in name was also announced alongside of the funding news, and is seen as a natural step for the fledgling company, as Rick Johnson explained when writing to Kickstarter backers:

One observation we’ve made along the way is that people kept calling us “castAR” as a company name. We used the financing as an excuse to change our official company name to castAR.

The Series a funding round comes on top of an undisclosed seed round of funding for the company. Together these demonstrate that castAR is a viable investment concern, opening the door to additional round of investment in the future, if / when needed. As Henkel-Wallace informed, “This money really marks an inflection point from being just a raw start-up to actually allowing us to become a really fully functioning company.”

Congrats to Jeri, Rick, David and the team.