While all of these demos were shown to us individually, one of the real differentiators separating castAR and other AR/VR solutions is how well the glasses work in social environments for group play, collaboration, and learning. You can have multiple glasses hooked up to the same output. So, for example, a group of friends can gather around a table covered in retro-reflective material and play together. Each of them has a unique perspective on the game without interference from other participants.
At the same time, because this is AR and not VR, all of the players can still see and interact with each other in the real world and the game world. This really is a totally different experience compared to the more solitary gaming experiences we're used to. It’s no surprise that digital board games and D&D-style RPGs are such a big part of what Technical Illusions is showing off. But castAR isn’t just for gaming; it also has enormous potential as a collaborative and educational tool. Imagine a group of medical students gathering around a digital representation of a patient on an operating table, working on a simulated surgery together.
While Technical Illusions' Kickstarter was a resounding success, involving 3863 backers raising $1,052,110, in the grand scheme of things, fewer than 4000 customers is still a small number. One of the biggest challenges the company faces is getting people to understand how castAR sets itself apart from other AR/VR solutions. A VR technology like the Oculus Rift, for example, is easier to understand. The concept of virtual reality has been embedded into geek consciousness since Neuromancer. Even a standard AR idea like Google Glass is pretty easy to grasp.
On the other hand, castAR’s projected augmented reality is completely new and potentially revolutionary; it’s an entirely new way of experiencing digital content. You do need the retro-reflective surface to experience castAR the way it was designed, which does limit mobility, the tracking technology, even in early development, is very accurate, yielding a comfortable user experience.
If Technical Illusions can deliver a lightweight and reasonably-priced product capable of projected AR, standard AR, and VR, the company will truly have something very special to offer technology enthusiasts.
Aside from the hardware itself, it's exciting to see how Jeri, Rick, and the rest of the team at Technical Illusions are developing castAR (that is to say, different from the way most hardware is developed). Crowdfunding through sites like Kickstarter and Indeigogo is really changing the model. The community is involved early on, and its feedback helps shape the final product. Jeri and Rick both seem more transparent about castAR than we've seen from other Kickstarter-funded projects, resulting in early looks like this one. Their common background as part of the maker community, where ideas are shared, rather than hoarded for profit, no doubt plays a role in that openness.
Projected AR really has the potential to revolutionize how we interact with our computers, and it was a privilege to be able to see Technical Illusions’ technology so early in development. Hopefully we get a chance to go hands-on with the next iteration of castAR later this year. Stay tuned.