CastAR: The Augmented And Virtual Reality Triple-Threat

Revolutionizing How We Interact With Digital Content

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.

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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
    Anonymous 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!