With some disappointment, backers of the successful castAR Kickstarter campaign will have received an email today about getting a refund for any hardware tiers they may have sponsored. However, it’s not all bad news; the same people will also be getting a free castAR unit when it’s released in 2017.
castAR initially hit Kickstarter a couple years ago as one of the first few Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality hybrid glasses, co-founded by ex-Valve employees, Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson. The technology behind the glasses was extremely interesting as it used retro-reflective material, a pair of micro-projectors, and polarized glasses to create a 3D image that was projected into the real-world, then reflected back into the user’s eyes. A head-mounted camera and some LED markers allowed for sub-millimeter head tracking too.
The design was unique and successfully funded at over $1 million through the Kickstarter. A number of design iterations were made, and a number of delays too, the developer units of the system were delivered early 2015 – about a year and a half late from the initial Kickstarter estimate.
Back in August this year, there was a rather grand announcement that castAR had successfully secured a large $15 million venture capital investment from a company called Playground Global. What made this of interest, apart from the cash injection, was that one of the founders of this VC company was Andy Rubin, who helped create the Android mobile operating system.
With delivery of the early developer units, people started to get their hands on what was to come, and help build the the games and software that will later drive further sales and investment into the company. The late delivery didn’t help, but not so surprisingly, the people that backed the project to get the developer glasses… were not developers. In fact, castAR announced in the forums that they were willing to send out developer glasses early to any backers willing to start creating games now.
This lack of feedback from a critical market segment has probably slowed development further. In the FAQ relating to this announcement of refunds, some of the reasons given makes sense. Most of the backers were not developers, and instead were after the finished product, despite the Kickstarter version being a developer model.
With the slow development and lack of feedback, it’s not too surprising that castAR has decided to issue refunds to all Kickstarter backers – or those that pledged for hardware. Being a backer myself, I was disheartened to read the announcement, but I am not angry. The silver lining is that anyone that bought hardware through Kickstarter, will be getting the whole bundle, glasses, wand and large mat, for free – when it’s released in 2017. Full details about the refund and how to claim were sent out with the email, but for those curious, you can read the FAQ for all the details.
I wish the team best of luck, and look forward to the coming year when the kit arrives. It is doubtful that the company would go under at this point, especially with the recent venture capital investment. It’s not a raw deal in the end, as money is returned, in fact, it’s a pretty awesome deal as backers will receive the kit for free (if it delivers).
The castAR team will be attending GDC (Game Developer Conference) next year, so if you plan on going, you will be able to check out the latest version of the developer glasses there.