It’s nearly that time, the final hours are ticking away after a whole month of Kickstarter funding. We covered the announcement when the castAR project started, and we’re back again to cover the ending. It’s all good news, as the project was completely funded within three days of its launch, so it’s been stretch goals since. While details at the time of the project launch were all highly subject to change, we now have a fair idea of the technical specifications.
Our original news story covers the concept behind the castAR system, but for a quick recap, here’s what’s involved. The castAR is an augmented/virtual reality hybrid headset, developed by Technical Illusions, that uses pico-projectors mounted above a set of active-shutter glasses (like those used for stereoscopic 3D TVs).
Augmented reality (overlaying the virtual world onto the real world) is achieved through a very innovative use of something called a retro-reflective surface; this is a material that will reflect light back at near the same angle as its source, instead of scattering it in all directions – think road signs or the reflective material on safety gear. Virtual reality (immersive, fully enclosed reality) makes use of a lens kit that redirects the light from the projectors and feeds it into each eye through various mirrors and optics to correct for field of view.
One of the cool features of using the retro-reflective material, is that two or more people can use the same surface at the same time, with no interference. When this is paired with the head tracking, different people can look at the same scene, but from different angles; it also means in competitive gameplay, you can’t cheat by looking at your opponents screen.
The projectors operate at 720p, 120Hz – per eye, so flicker free HD playback. This may seem rather paltry for PC users now expecting to see 4K making headway onto our desks, but that’s still a few years away from mainstream. The real issue though is the 120Hz refresh rate, modern graphics cards can struggle with 60 FPS in the right game, let alone 120, not to mention that there are the equivalent of two monitors to output (one for each eye), if you want stereoscopic 3D. Plus, 1080p pico-projectors are not cheap.
The next part of the package is head-tracking, something that is pivotal to a successful AR/VR package. Even millisecond delays between your head moving and the image updating, can cause nausea and dizziness. Technical Illusions’ approach is effectively straight out of the old tech-demo by Johnny Lee in 2007 using a WiiRemote. There is a camera built into the centre frame of the glasses that tracks a fixed reference point, an IR LED block with five LEDs mounted on it. The center LED also transmits a command code which can be used for various functions, such as signifying which surface the user may be looking at. This camera/LED system allows for sub-millimetre accuracy, with all processing done locally on the glasses, so even mobile phones can make use of the tracking system (positional data is transmitted over USB at just 72bytes per frame). As part of the stretch goals, gyroscopes have also been fitted to the glasses, for when an IR block is not visible. While not as accurate as the IR system, it still allows for users to perform 360 degree turns without too many issues.
Another of the stretch goals was the inclusion audio, both headphones and mic. Unfortunately, details are still a little thin at this time, as I’m unsure whether the castAR will use HDMI or simple pass-through jacks for people to use their own equipment.
There are two other additions to the glasses, both of which could be Kickstarter projects unto themselves. The first being the Magic Wand, a 3D space input device which works as a pointing device and controller rolled into one, utilizing the same positional system as the glasses. The second is the RFID board and sensors for table-top gameplay, more than likely to be used for D&D type games, and strategy such as RISK and Warhammer.
So, how does all of this roll together? For that, you would need to watch a multitude of videos. In terms of practical application, the system already has SDKs that allow integration with Unity, the game design and development engine. A further stretch goal also includes support for Maya (a 3D package, often used by game developers).
With money still clocking in, we won’t know the final sum till tomorrow, and whether the $1 million stretch goal was met. So if you are still interested in the project but wanted to wait for the dust to settle and certain stretch goals to be met, now is your last chance to fund the castAR.
Update: The castAR was successfully funded with a grand total of $1,052,110. Now the wait begins for final delivery. Congratulations to Technical Illusions.