Two former Valve engineers have gone to Kickstarter to crowdfund their AR system, the castAR.
It started with Star Wars: Episode IV. After seeing characters R2-D2 and Chewbacca play a holographic 3D chess-style game, former Valve engineers Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson were inspired. The duo, now together as Technical Illusions, are crowdfunding castAR, a projected augmented reality system that displays holographic-like 3D images.
"One primary concern we kept in mind when developing the castAR system was how to bridge the gap between the physical world and the virtual world," Technical Illusions stated on its Kickstarter page. "We accomplished this through the use of two unique peripherals: the Magic Wand and the RFID Tracking Grid." The Magic Wand is a controller that allows the user to control things in space, while the RFID Tracking Grid identifies, tracks, and augments physical objects on the surface.
The castAR is a set of glasses, slightly heavier than sunglasses and designed even for people who already wear glasses, as it sits outside of them. The frames of the glasses use a micro-projector for each eye, and a tiny camera situated between the projectors scans for infrared identification markers on the surface, the second component of the castAR. The surface is a retro-reflective sheeting material, which bounces light from projectors to the glasses, enabling use of surface by multiple people. In addition, a VR attachment allows use of castAR without the reflective surface for virtual reality.
By pledging $189 to the project, backers receive the starter package, which includes the castAR glasses, and a 1-meter by 1-meter surface. Estimated delivery is September 2014. A software development kit is available for developers, and Unity integration and the SDK will be available for free.
castAR's development began in 2012 when Ellsworth was experimenting with a projector in Valve's Software hardware lab. After observing a bright flash from reflecting light, Ellsworth saw how retro-reflective material could be used for projecting images. She began work on the first prototype, naming it the "head crab" because of its size and pain when wearing it.
The project is already nearing one-fourth of its $400,000 goal and has 31 days left in the crowdfunding campaign.