Ex-Valve Employees Take AR Glasses To Kickstarter

By Nathan Grayson on October 15th, 2013 at 9:00 am.

Slightly less hideous than Oculus Rift, too!

Once upon a time, Valve was working on a set of future glasses so potent that their impossible fever dream visions would spill onto our tables and floors, like imagination made real. But then they decided that Oculus Rift was more their speed, and the mighty mega-brains in people costumes attached to the project, Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, were let go. The duo, however, decided to treat getting laid off as a slight bump in the road, with the re-christened CastAR resurfacing at Maker Faire earlier this year. And now, as is the natural way of all things that walk this Earth, the AR and VR glasses have gone to Kickstarter.

Yep. That basically looks astounding – especially in terms of versatility. CastAR can apparently do “whoa all my characters/items/internal organs are on a mat right in front of me” augmented reality, Oculus-Rift-style virtual reality, and stuff that straddles the line (for instance, projecting a flight-sim-style game onto a nearby wall and floor). But how does it work? My original supposition was overworked, underpaid (but sadly non-unionized) gremlins, but I guess technology plays some kind of role as well:

“CastAR’s projected augmented reality system is comprised of two main components: a pair of glasses and a surface. The frames of the glasses contain two micro-projectors – one for each eye. Each projector casts a perspective view of a stereoscopic 3D image onto the surface. Your eyes focus on this projected image at a very natural and comfortable viewing distance. A tiny camera in-between the projectors scans for infrared identification markers placed on the surface. The camera uses these markers to precisely track your head position and orientation in the physical world, enabling the software to accurately adjust how the holographic scene should appear to you. The glasses get their video signal through an HDMI connection. The camera is connected via a USB port on the PC.”

It sounds like quite the thing, and it’s already well on its way to receiving funding. As of writing, CastAR’s crowdfunding campaign had already blown past the halfway point of its $400,000 goal in only a day. That’s an extremely encouraging start. At this point, you might want to consider bulldozing your living room to make space for that Holodeck you’ve been planning since you were eight.

If all goes according to plan, hardware should start shipping in September 2014. Do you like what you’re seeing?

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55 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Anthile says:

    I see a prosperous future for the staring eyes tag. I mean, just look at how much money people throw at this. It’s already at $250k.

    • P7uen says:

      Augmented eyes tag?

      • Dozer says:

        Forgive my interruption. My vision is that this product will, within six months, produce a new age, where people will say “Forgive my interruption; my vision is augmented” in a desperate attempt to be funny.

        Electronic oldmen.

        • BooleanBob says:

          We’ve had to endure much, you and eye,

        • P7uen says:

          Not sure if you’re being nasty to me or not, but either way it was relevant to the comment. If I was ‘desperate’ to by funny I could have been a lot cornea.

          • Dozer says:

            :D

            Quit screwing around. You wanna power down the whole system? You will proceed up the stairs to the junkpile and search for ‘Deus Ex Recut’ and ‘Deus Ex Malkavian Mod’.

            Get, get moving.

          • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

            Dozer! I… I… I thought you were a GEP gun.

        • phelix says:

          You have a lot to learn, my dear pupil.

          • Sleepymatt says:

            Uvea lot to learn yourself, sir. He was only being j-ocular.

        • Thrashie says:

          Eye want to believe!

  2. Kitsunin says:

    That video made me cover my mouth and scream with excitement. I’d definitely say it sounds too good to be true, but let’s really, really, really hope not. I guess there isn’t a reason it would be, but still, jeez.

  3. Ender7 says:

    I am excited to see more and more ar and vr sets coming around. This looks interesting and could be cool in certain situation, but I am not quite sold on it. I get the feeling that this is first and foremost an AR set and the VR was just slapped on later because of the popularity of the oculus. There is nothing wrong with that, AR is really cool. However, I am personally more interested in the potential for VR in the future. So that is why the oculas is the horse I am backing and will be buying that as soon as a consumer version is available. If the leaked consumer oculus rift photo is to be believed, there will be stereo cameras on it, which means it will most likely do AR too.

    The future is looking interesting.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      Yeah, it does seem that way doesn’t it…Occulus did a better job of convincing me. Looks very, very cool, but not quite sure it’s something I want to invest it. It doesn’t look quite as immersive as I’d like from a holodeck

  4. JohnnyK says:

    Looks interesting. But they take an augmented shit on international backers with those shipping costs (60-80 USD extra) so I’ll pass.

    And I would guess they ship from Asia anyway (Ouya did this and only charged shipping to international backers).

    Plus, tariffs. I’d rather buy this once it’s on Amazon or some Euro shops.

    • Premium User Badge

      melnificent says:

      Yup, funnily enough that was my no-go…. $300+ on a prototype, no problem (I did this with the openpandora). But taking the proverbial with shipping costs, that’s an uphill battle of trust.

    • Kitsunin says:

      The sad thing is it actually does cost almost that much to ship to Asia. Well, it does for personal deliveries from the US to Taiwan at least, indeed even if the product is coming from China (Imagining it’s an English language product) though I’m sure bulk is cheaper.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I would consider the shipping costs again. They charge $30 for US shipping, so it’s not trivial either way. It’s possible that they’re automatically including insurance. That’s not that inaccurate.

  5. bigjig says:

    I’m beginning to get an idea why these guys were let go from Valve

    • Tridae says:

      Exactly. . . I can get behind most new tech but this looks like it’ll never catch on. It’s gimmicky at best.

      Sure it’s cool for about 5 mins but then the novelty wears off and you’re left with an awkward gadget that doesn’t quite work that well.

      The fact that it uses tiny little projectors is possibly the worst idea ever – even from their video you can already tell how dim the image is not to mention that you need to sit in a nearly pitch black room to be able to use them well.

      This also works on exactly the same principles as a 3d tv which will bring the same problems with it too, along with the obvious tracking lag these glasses look absolutely horrible.

      It pains me to see them riding on the “ex-valve” wave as if that magically makes them geniuses.

      • GamesInquirer says:

        I don’t see them riding any wave, just being honest and providing details about the project’s origin and their own resume. Valve could have told them they own it and they can’t have it when they were let go, but didn’t. Why would these guys suddenly simply stop crediting them in their history? Alternatively why would they hide their resume from potential backers who tend to want to know what the people involved have achieved in the past? They don’t advertise themselves as ex-Valve, that’s just what outlets use to have catchy headlines. Their first mention of Valve is halfway through the campaign’s page.

      • rustybroomhandle says:

        That’s just rude. Jeri Ellsworth was brilliant long before her very brief stint at Valve. Just dismiss any headlines that play up the “ex Valve” thing as tabloid-like.

        • Premium User Badge

          Hodge says:

          This. I’d say the reason it’s going so well already is down to the goodwill people have towards Ellsworth, not because it’s tangentially related to Valve.

      • KevinRock says:

        >The fact that it uses tiny little projectors is possibly the worst idea ever – even from their video you can already tell how dim the image is not to mention that you need to sit in a nearly pitch black room to be able to use them well.

        The material reflects light back at the source, into your eyes. That’s why the projectors can be so weak and also why you can have multiple people using the same mat — each person sees only their image. I tried it in an normally lit room. It was about as bright as a regular TV set wearing 3D goggles (slightly less bright than normal TV).

    • Josh W says:

      They were let go from valve because Jeri wanted a department and assistents, but Valve’s policy on recruitments means only multi-talented geniuses, even if you only want someone to machine shop some basic things…. And then emotions.

      But basically that’s the core of it, the idea is logical and sound, and I’m honestly amazed no-one else thought of it before, and they’re really good at getting prototypes finished fast, so no-one will be able to catch up to them for a while. Clever people.

  6. GamesInquirer says:

    Oculus Rift for my PC gaming and CastAR for living room family party games a-la Wii, board games, kids multiplayer toys etc. If they can get it cheap as they claim it could perhaps take off in such niches. Where did people see this doing OR style VR though? I don’t see anything at all of the sort.

    By the way I’m assuming this Rick Johnson is a different person to Erik Johnson, right? If not then surely he’s still at Valve, as well as this company, right? If not then mind blown.

    • Kitsunin says:

      In the video they show a clip-on device that completely obscures the lenses, and claim that it does full-on VR. I’m not convinced without details, but if it truly does work…!

  7. Tridae says:

    Augmented reality like this is the weakest kind – the type where you project 3d images over the real world resulting in dim ghost-like 3d.

    A better way to do it would be how phones currently handle it, capture video, insert 3d and screen it all on one monitor. This ensures your 3d has the correct brightness and solidity over your real world.

    Using VR goggles like The Oculus combined with a cameras is the best solution. Just google “Oculus Rift Augmented Reality” and you’ll see a bunch of links that are already moving in the right direction.

    https://developer.oculusvr.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=2042

    Something like that would make for a much better experience.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I’m a little unclear, but if the lense is capable of completely obscuring parts of your vision with AR artifacts, wouldn’t that be better than a camera doing the job (Because infinite resolution on the non-AR bits rather than just HD)? Well, the video left me a little fuzzy on how they’re doing it, if it just looks like what is in video I’m slightly underwhelmed.

      • KhanIHelpYou says:

        If by that you mean couldn’t you just have a lens that displayed the CGI it absolutely would be better, but as of yet magical transparent screens that could be used for that don’t really exist other than google glass? I doubt I’m going to find out what wearing that is like for many years though. The other ones that do exist now require so much back-lighting to be vivid that you’d have to be staring at the sun most of the time.

        The Rift+cameras concept is really cool but it’ll run into so many problems with focus depth, fov and general image quality. As well as your viewing point being a couple of inches further forward than your used to.

  8. Feriluce says:

    Sooo….Useless for anyone who wear glasses already?

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      Watch pitch video, learn stuff.

      • sirflimflam says:

        To be honest, I don’t care what the guy says about being able to wear them in front of his glasses because it is *incredibly* awkward to do regardless. Even doing this with the standard glasses for 3D movies is an awkward experience. They’re very likely going to want to consider some sort of frameless clip on system for people who already have glasses.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    I bet the person responsible for naming it is a big Phantasy Star fan.

  10. schlusenbach says:

    I wait for AR contact lenses. Then I will happily live with my VR dragon and my augmented girl friend.
    Good times, the future.

  11. Nick says:

    Entire room into a holodeck.. do want.

  12. Monkeh says:

    Augmented reality? Meh, fun for five minutes, boring after that. Oculus Rift will probably be better at virtual reality, so basically this things seems pretty redundant to me.

    Seems like others don’t feel the same way, seeing as they’ve already got over half the money with still 30 days to go. Guess I’ll just wait for the reviews to see if it’s worth anything.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Definitely the case with like, the 3DS and smartphones’ AR. However I think their idea of using it for board games is freakin’ fantastic. If it works well, I can just imagine being able to play D&D over the internet, or one of those super expensive games like Warhammer without having to actually buy pieces (Admittedly that would remove the charm for many people, but I’m imagining a similar game designed to work in such a way). That would be pretty darn cool if you ask me, even if there aren’t many other uses…

    • airmikee99 says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Even the examples that Kitsunin brings up don’t excite me, because I’d rather play D&D or Warhammer in person. Paper and dice games online mean WoW or SWToR.

  13. Boarnoah says:

    That reminds me of this marvelous little short film.

  14. Premium User Badge

    VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    Three things bother me about this kickstarter:

    1. It’s unfocused. They’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink into what this will do: projected AR, true AR (to use their term), and VR. Oh, and the odd wand input device. Oh, and the RFID-sensing mat which appears to be entirely unrelated (though perhaps a useful adjunct for many purposes). I get the feeling that their product will be mediocre at all of these instead of really good at one of them.

    2. They’re suspiciously quiet on the true AR and VR performance. They talk up how the projected AR is comfortable on the eyes due to normal focusing distances, and doesn’t need adjustment for individual users. But they fail to mention how their true AR and VR clip-on solution will require both of these. They don’t address the technical or user experience details of this at all.

    3. They don’t talk at all about cabling for signal and power. Their pictures of their current prototype also hide these details which are an essential component of the user experience. This makes me worry that they’ve not thought about this aspect of it at all.

    So yeah, I’m not backing it.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Yeah, that bothered me too. They were really talking about the projected AR and going into reasonable detail, but then, especially with the VR aspect, about all the information we got was “By the way there’s going to be this too” with a couple tiny clips showing extremely little information, which doesn’t inspire any sort of confidence in me.

  15. Lemming says:

    table-top RPGs and wargaming just went to 2.0.

  16. uh20 says:

    looks like there’s a ton of peripherals to get it working (mats, pieces, wands), but this is definitely a good start in that direction.

  17. Natima says:

    Wow! Looks impressive…
    Maybe Valve will snap these guys up, they have an eye for talent…
    Oh… wait…

  18. Tacroy says:

    Huh interesting, the guy at 3 minutes is actually Pete Dokter, the director of engineering at Sparkfun

  19. Skyrant says:

    Honestly, i don’t see it! Pun intended.

    A. It projects onto a surface from mini projectors. Even under optimal light conditions the image is going to be lacking the definition and precision for Professional Applications like medicine or architecture. Doctors or Architects won’t work in a pitch black room. That is defeating the idea of AR completely. Even for gaming i rather look at a crisp, high contrast monitor than a dim projected image on a table.

    B. For Tabletop games it is going to be really awkward since only the person “projecting” will have a stereoscopic picture. The rest of the people around the table will not see it that way. There is no interaction since only ONE person at a time can project onto the surface. If you lift your head to talk to someone across the table you will project into their faces, this is just complete rubbish if you ask me.

    C. Too many points of failure and restrictions. The surface has to be perfectly flat and supposedly made out of a special material. There is no head tracking you have to stare straight at that that cloth mat on the table/wall. Projectors are fickle and the lenses get dirty scratched, the light source needs to be replaced at some point.

    This is probably the worst AR/VR attempt i have seen so far. Not going to back this one.

    • KevinRock says:

      >A. It projects onto a surface from mini projectors. Even under optimal light conditions the image is going to be lacking the definition and precision for Professional Applications like medicine or architecture. Doctors or Architects won’t work in a pitch black room. That is defeating the idea of AR completely. Even for gaming i rather look at a crisp, high contrast monitor than a dim projected image on a table.

      The reason you need to use a special mat is that the mat is retro-reflective — that is, it shines light back at the source only in a narrow beam. This is why the projects are so low wattage, they are essentially reflecting the light directly into your eye off the surface, and not illuminating it. This also means other people don’t see anything on the surface than a ghostly image at best.

      The image when using it is comparable to the image on a 3D movie screen (dimmer than reality due to the glasses but bright enough that you stop noticing after using it). source: I tried the glasses at Makerfaire.

      >B. For Tabletop games it is going to be really awkward since only the person “projecting” will have a stereoscopic picture. The rest of the people around the table will not see it that way. There is no interaction since only ONE person at a time can project onto the surface. If you lift your head to talk to someone across the table you will project into their faces, this is just complete rubbish if you ask me.

      Since the reflected light only hits the person projecting, no the contrary, everyone actually can project onto the surface at the same time and see the same virtual objects. Note that they specifically have two player versions that come with a single mat for this very reason. The projectors turn off if you look away from the mat and at someone’s face.

      I do think tabletop games will be kinda awkward. The kind that will work will be games that 90% virtual sets with a few trackable physical pieces. I don’t think you could project on top of a regular board game very well.

      C. Too many points of failure and restrictions. The surface has to be perfectly flat and supposedly made out of a special material. There is no head tracking you have to stare straight at that that cloth mat on the table/wall. Projectors are fickle and the lenses get dirty scratched, the light source needs to be replaced at some point.

      There is head tracking, without it, the entire thing wouldn’t work. You can learn forward and look at the image from different angles. When I tried it someone nearby held up a matt in their hands, and I looked from the stationary matt into that matt, and it seemlessly worked there too. I’m not sure actually sure how that was possible but it did.

  20. Premium User Badge

    strangeloup says:

    It certainly looks interesting, but as the starter package comes to about $300 with shipping to the UK, it’s far beyond my means.

  21. DrManhatten says:

    AR glasses are utter pointless even more so than VR. All kind of headset technology is so last millennium when do devs finally wake up it is the wrong approach.

    • airmikee99 says:

      I actually got to use a VR rig during the last millennium, it was so big, slow, and cumbersome that in comparison, the Occulus Rift is the RIGHT approach.

      • DrManhatten says:

        Except it nearly has still the same shitty resolution which will not go away not even in 10 years so no the absolute wrong approach that’s why everyone serious about VR went for projection-based system

  22. Yaksha says:

    So in between googles glasses and the Oculus rift, where does this have it’s place? If Valve didn’t have faith in it why should we?