CastAR: The Augmented And Virtual Reality Triple-Threat

How CastAR Works

CastAR works (and is differentiated from other AR technologies we've seen) using high-resolution micro-projectors that throw content out in front of you, rather than shooting it straight back into your eye.

They key to seeing that content is a retro-reflective material capable of bouncing light back to your eyes. You see what your brain perceives out in space, rather than information presented on a screen close to your face.

Consequently, you're less likely to experience eye strain with castAR, allowing you to use the glasses for longer periods of time. And because you can see the augmented reality content and the physical world at the same time, it's possible to interact with people and objects around you while wearing the glasses. Technical Illusions designed castAR to fit over regular prescription frames, and claims that the final version will weigh less than 100 grams.

Of equal importance is castAR's tracking system, which lets you alter your perspective of the 3D content in front of you. By moving your head around, you can look over the top, from the side, or behind a scene. CastAR registers your movements using a built-in camera that tracks an IR LED marker placed within the field of view of the space you’re projecting onto.

CastAR IR LED Head-Tracking MarkerCastAR IR LED Head-Tracking Marker

Technical Illusions claims castAR’s positional tracking is sub-millimeter-accurate. Naturally, that accuracy plays a big part in creating an immersive experience. By the time castAR is ready for production, it's expected to employ gyroscopic tracking for use without the IR marker; this is one of the features added through a stretch goal on Kickstarter.

Of course, there also needs to be a way for you to interact with the content projected out in front of you, and there are a number of ways to achieve this. For a more traditional experience, which is one of the demos we tried, you can simply use a game controller. However, Technical Illusions is also working on what it calls the Magic Wand, a 3D input device that uses the same tracking system as the glasses.

CastAR Magic Wand 3D Input Device Mock-UpCastAR Magic Wand 3D Input Device Mock-Up

Another optional accessory is an RFID Tracking Grid, which sits under the retro-reflective surface. This grid is designed for playing digital board and roleplaying games, and it lets you use objects present in the virtual world. Think D&D miniatures in a projected dungeon. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to test the wand or RFID grid during our time with castAR.

Finally, you'll be able to interact with what you see through gestures. While Technical Illusions isn’t building its own gesture recognition technology, the company told us that castAR will eventually work with commercially available solutions like Kinect and Leap Motion.

CastAR Production Unit Mock-Up With AR/VR Clip-On AttachmentCastAR Production Unit Mock-Up With AR/VR Clip-On Attachment

The last piece of the castAR system is the AR & VR Clip-on, which converts the glasses from projected AR to more a more traditional AR (or even full VR) experience. The reflective surface on the clip-on bounces the stereo image back to your eyes. This could be particularly useful for when a retro-reflective surface isn't handy.

Of course, you still need the IR tracker nearby in order to take advantage of the precise tracking provided by the glasses' camera. The AR & VR Clip-on wasn’t quite ready for us to test, but Technical Illusions claims that, with it, “you will have no need for any other head-mounted display”.

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  • blackmagnum
    Someone's been trigger happy with the hot-glue gun.
  • Quarkzquarkz
    Wait, so will this be better than Oculus Rift? I'm really curious now.
  • CaedenV
    This is pretty neat!Back when I was a kid in the '90s my dad use to work for a company that made 3D scanners, and I had the opportunity to follow him one day to go repair a scanner at a college. While there the college students kept me entertained with a system kind of similar to this. It was based on a stereoscopic rear-projection screen, and a set of head tracking polarized glasses. It was pretty cool, and I have been very supprised that we have not seen much like it until now.The other cool thing was that rather than a big funky wand, you basically had 2 handheld devices with buttons under each finger in order to interact with the enviornment. One button would allow you to grab and move an object, another would allow you to rotate, others would bring up context menus, or 'in game' options. It was all really neat.Anywho, the big thing that it was missing (other than good graphics... it was the '90s after all) was the ability to have a multiple users. With multiple users interacting on the same playing field like this new AR can do, it makes for some much more interesting gameplay.I really hope that things like VR and AR are able to take off. When I was a kid I was promised that I could go live in space, and that we would have holodecks available... so far we are 0 for 2, but I would be pretty happy if we could get one or the other off the ground.
  • CaedenV
    1419379 said:
    Wait, so will this be better than Oculus Rift? I'm really curious now.

    Certainly not 'better' in the way of quality. The nice thing about Oculus Rift is that you have a much more controlled enviornment, and are able to surround yourself with a virtural world while blocking out reality. This system is meant to open up more social or alternative styles of gameplay. Much more flexible in what it can do... but it will necessarily always have drawbacks because the environment is less controlled. Ambient light can wash out your characters, resolution on projectors vs a screen are always going to suffer more from things like the screen door effect, and it is much more difficult to cram 2 high resolution projectors in the same space as a single high res monitor.

    So it is one of those things where you win some and you loose some. I think the Oculus Rift will have much more of a following for hard core gamers, and even myself as a moderate gamer. But the Rift will always suffer in the popular market because (as is the great secret of Nintendo) people, especially kids (or parents of those kids), enjoy more social games. Things that block reality out have a very difficult time gaining traction. But something like this AR would offer more social interaction. Essentially high tech board and card games, or some sort of choose your own adventure games. I could just imagine something like Warhammer, or D&D being played like this where you can throw down a card or a token and have a 3D character on the field of battle. Or better yet, combine UI hardware like this with a content creator like Project Spark in a school setting to engage students in cooperative programming and game environments!

    At any rate, you loose out on quality, but you have the potential to gain in other ways which could be much more interesting than the Rift. Very different devices aimed at very different uses and markets.
  • Omid_m_19
    Beside D&D and board games that have been mentioned in the article,and I add TCG(Trading card games,like Yu-gi oh and infinity wars),I think other things too will be much fun.For example,by adding kinect,you can play a fighting game,seeing your opponent in front of you,and with kinect monitoring your body actions,you hit or block AI fighter,like real fights.I think it would be very useful in learning martial arts.
  • Omid_m_19
    Beside D&D and board games that have been mentioned in the article,and I add TCG(Trading card games,like Yu-gi oh and infinity wars),I think other things too will be much fun.For example,by adding kinect,you can play a fighting game,seeing your opponent in front of you,and with kinect monitoring your body actions,you hit or block AI fighter,like real fights.I think it would be very useful in learning martial arts.
  • rsktek
    Wondered how long it would take Tom's to mention this tech gear.
  • tristangl
    Off topic and no one will care butI find that dev girl very cute hehe
  • tristangl
    Off topic and no one will care butI find that dev girl very cute hehe
  • tristangl
    darn I forgot that you CANNOT hit refresh on Toms pageGuys at Tom... can you fix that stupid bug where it double post your comment if you ever hit F5 once you post somethingShould be already fixed... I mean you are a a tech website are you not??!!?
  • Murissokah
    "Although the pair no longer worked at Value..."That is one weird typo.
  • floobadedoo
    Comparing Cast AR to the Oculus Rift is interesting. The OR is regarded as having an advantage when full immersion is desired. The wide FOV and low latency of the OR work well together to reduce motion-induced nausea which has been one of the biggest impediments to widely adopted VR. Eye fatigue is likely to still be a problem with the Rift, however. I've experienced wide FOV VR with several hours of use with a Sensics system an it is a remarkably cool experience. However, full visual immersion still has some drawbacks in the user-interface and this can disrupt immersion or leads to a limited experience. Without very accurate hand/finger tracking, controls are best limited to a "HOTAS" (or HOMAK--Hands-On-Mouse-And-Keyboard) mentality. This creates a burden for the application designer, needing to create an abstraction of the control or environment that maps to the HOMAK/HOTAS input devices. A poor abstraction can be trivially accomplished, but a good controls abstraction requires some serious savvy. A Kinect type interface can simplify some of this in certain situations, but overall, the user is left grasping at air once the hands come off the main controls. And walking about with another player also in VR? Please empty the room of all obstacles and invest in some good body tracking software.What CastAR offers is a greatly simplified interface considerations with AR objects (and players!) that can match our real-world expectations. Need to move an AR game piece? Reach out, pick it up and place it where you want it. Need to flip some switches? Slide levers? Thump on a faulty needle gauge? Reach out and do it. Need to move from the pilot cockpit seat to the back-facing gunner's seat? Get up, turn around, walk to the other seat and sit down. Need to touch other players for some reason? Reach over and touch them. (Yeah, what games are there that have you touch another real-life player? None, yet, but if someone wants to develop one, CastAR is the obvious choice over any fully immersive HMD.)CastAR technology may beg us to redecorate our rooms with grey shiny cloth, but it won't ask us to rip ourselves out of the immersive environment just to find the mouse that fell on the floor, or to check on the odd sound that might be the cat coughing up a hairball, or because we've got an eye-fatigue induced migraine after 45 minutes of gaming. What CastAR is offering is something far beyond the simple and very limited world of HMD-based VR. It is offering to replace a great deal of user-interface mojo with naturally intuitive interactions. Immersion isn't just about visuals, it is about meeting a user's intuitive expectations instead of having to remember which keystroke accomplishes which simple actions. VR HMDs are to visuals what surround sound is to mono. But the applications CastAR has the potential to offer can break down the fourth wall and create accessibility to users far beyond immersive VR. CastAR will allow us to integrate the real world into our games, not as an intrusion on immersion, but as an augmentation to the game environment. (See what I did there?) Any software developers aiming strictly at VR are being short-sighted in the extreme.
  • wtfxxxgp
    I think there are merits to both types of technology but I agree with another comment that this tech is going to follow a similar success story as Wii - it appeals more directly and immediately to the younger market. I think it could end up being very successful if implemented properly - think about having an entire room outfitted to take advantage of this for team-based games like LOL for example. It could be very interesting indeed. The future looks exciting!