Augmented Reality enthusiasts rejoice! Technical Illusions has released a video showing off the capabilities of their CastAR technology. Developed originally through Kickstarter funding, CastAR is a type of augmented reality that is more of a “Mixed Reality” system. It is distinguished from virtual reality systems like Oculus Rift by bringing 3D imagery into the world you’re experiencing already, rather than replacing the real world. It’s a bit different than other types of augmented reality too though, in that it brings virtual worlds into being in areas you specifically designate for them through the use of highly reflective screening material. With the right amount of material, you can make anything from a virtual tabletop game board to a full-fledged holodeck. Check out the video above to see what I mean, and why Mixed Reality is a perfect description for what CastAR accomplishes.
I had the chance to have a bit of an email back-and-forth with the brains behind the CastAR hardware, Technical Illusions’ Jeri Ellsworth. She was gracious enough to give us a look ahead at their plans for the technology and its upcoming retail launch.
Q&A With Jeri Ellsworth
JE: In its raw state, it’s a fabric that can be rolled out on a table or thumb tacked to the wall. It’s extremely inexpensive in bulk ($1-$2 per sqr meter) and can be processed into many shapes.
We’re experimenting with the form factor of the reflector, but one of my favorite configurations is with a stiff backing like cardboard that can be folded out on a coffee table like a board game board.
GM: Can you tell us a bit about how CastAR knows where the edges of the reflective material are?
JE: Currently we supply standalone tracking marker in the developer kit, which defines the position of the game experience. This is good and bad solution. It allows the developer to quickly experiment with different orientations of the virtual world but makes setup more complex.
By the time we hit retail the tracking will be embedded in the surface so that the end user experience will be foolproof. We will always allow custom configurations of surface and tracking for the power users, but it will be a separate thing that takes more skill to setup.
GM: The CastAR glasses themselves look a lot smaller and lighter than something like the Oculus Rift. How difficult was that to achieve?
JE: We showed our current developer glasses in the video, which are 1/3 the weight of bulky ski mask style headsets. The current weight is approximately 140 grams, and we’re confident we’ll be cutting that in half for the production glasses this year.
GM: A production model for this year is great news! Do you know what the retail price will be yet, and where people should look for them?
JE: We haven’t set a solid price on the kit because we’re still finalizing production costs, but it will be in the same ballpark as our Kickstarter price. In the long run we will have a kit with all the most common uses goodies included, so folks buying them retail will have a consistent result.
GM: What kind of content will CastAR be able to work with out of the box?
JE: This year we’ll have several internally generated table top games, plugins for a few popular productivity tools and game content from indie developers. We’re in discussions with larger game studios about CastAR support or plugins to add additional gameplay options.
Our longer term objective is to create a platform with almost no learning curve for the end users.
- Buy castAR.
- Roll out the playing surface on your coffee table.
- Power up the glasses and start playing a game with your friends.
GM: Indie developer support is also great news. Most of my favorite game titles have been indie developed ones.
JE: I suspect the killer apps will be from indie developers the first year or two because they’re more willing to experiment and explore the new user experiences. I’m confident we’ll see many future AAA game companies spring out of humble beginnings on AR platforms.
GM: Thank you for your time, Jeri!