CastAR Goes Live on Kickstarter

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[Jeri, Rick and the Technical Illusions crew] have taken the castAR to Kickstarter. We’ve covered castAR a couple of times in the past, but the Kickstarter includes a few new features just ripe for the hacking. First, castAR is no longer confined to a retro-reflective surface. In fact, it’s no longer confined to augmented reality. An optional clip on adapter converts castAR into a “free” augmented reality or a full virtual reality system.

[Jeri] has also posted a video on her YouTube channel detailing the entire saga of castAR’s development (embedded after the jump). The video has a real “heart to heart” feel to it, and is definitely worth watching. The story starts with the early days (and late nights) [Rick] and [Jeri] spent at Valve. She goes through the split with Valve and how the two set up a lab in [Rick's] living room. [Jeri] also outlines some of the technical aspects of the system. She explains how the optics have been reduced from several pounds of projectors to the mere ounces we see today.

Another surprise addition is the lower level tier rewards of the campaign. The castAR tracking system is offered. The campaign page says the tracking system can be mounted to anything from robots to other VR headsets. The possibilities for hacking are almost endless. We’re curious about setting up our own swarm of quadcopters similar to the UPENN Grasp Lab. The RFID tracking grid is also offered as a separate option. In the gaming system this will be used for tracking tabletop game pieces. Based upon the Kickstarter page, it sounds as if the grid will not only use RFID, but a camera based tracking system. We’re definitely curious what possibilities this will hold.

As of this writing, the castAR Kickstarter campaign is already well past the halfway mark on its way to a $400,000 USD goal.

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Eidos: Audio/Visual Sensory Augmentation

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One of our tipsters led us onto a very cool project by a British university team — It’s called Eidos, and it’s a real-time audio and visual augmentation system.

The creators embarked on this design journey after wondering if there was a way they could control and tune their senses. Imagine Superman and his ability to pick out one voice out of thousand — with this technology, it could be possible.

The clunky white goggles shown in the image above is the concept behind the visual augmentation. It’s akin to long-exposure photography, except that it is in real-time and is fluid video. We’re not sure how this could help anyone, but we have to admit it would be pretty cool to play around with. Maybe if Google Glass ever came out someone could write an app for it to mimic this!

The second device can target your hearing to a specific person in a noisy environment, zoning out all the unnecessary distractions. This could be very helpful for people suffering from attention deficit disorders, although we must imagine it would be very strange to get used to. Can you imagine blocking out everything and only looking at a person’s face and listening to their voice?

Unfortunately there is not much information about the actual tech or software behind these devices or if they even in fact work, but the concept was so interesting we just had to share it. Stick around after the break to see a video explanation and demonstration of the proposed technology.

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castAR comes to Maker Faire NY 2013

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If there was one sentence heard over and over at Maker Faire NY, it was “Did you see castAR yet?” The Technical Illusions team was at Maker Faire in full force. [Jeri Ellsworth], [Rick Johnson,] and team brought two demos:  the tried and true Jenga simulator, and a newer overhead shooter based on the Unity 3D engine. We didn’t see any earth shattering changes from the previous demos of castAR, as [Jeri] has moved into optimization of the Hardware, and [Rick] toward even more immersive demos of the software. Optimization and preparing for market are considered the “hard yards” of any product design. This is the place where a huge amount of work goes in, but the changes are subtle to the layperson.

In addition to her development of castAR’s ASIC, [Jeri] has been hard at work on the optics. The “old” glasses used a solid plastic optical path. The newer glasses use a hollow path for the twin 720p projectors. This makes them even lighter than the previous generation. Weight on the castAR glasses can’t be overstated. They feel incredibly light. There was no perceptible pressure on the nose or ears when wearing them. Also missing was the motion sickness people often experience with VR. This is because castAR doesn’t replace the user’s vision field, it only augments the vision. Peripheral motion cues are still there, which makes for a much more comfortable experience. [Read more...]

[Jeri] spills the beans on her AR glasses

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In the last year, [Jeri Ellsworth] has been very busy. She was hired by Valve, started development of an augmented reality system, fired by Valve, and started a new company with [Rick Johnson] to bring her augmented reality glasses to the market. On the last Amp Hour podcast she spilled the beans on what went down at Valve, how her glasses work, and what her plans for the future are.

[Jeri] and [Rick]‘s castAR glasses aren’t virtual reality glasses like the Oculus Rift or other virtual reality glasses that cut you off from the real world. The castAR glasses preserve your peripheral vision by projecting images and objects onto a gray retro-reflective mat and allows you to interact with a virtual environment with an electronic wand. So far, there are a few demos for the castAR system; a Jenga clone, and a game of battle chess called Team For Chess, a wonderful reference to Valve’s hat simulator.

The electronics inside the castAR glasses are fairly impressive; new frames are drawn on the retro-reflective surface at 100 Hz, positioning accuracy is in the sub-millimeter range, and thanks to [Jeri]‘s clever engineering the entire system should be priced at about $200. Not too bad for an awesome device that can be used not only for D&D and Warhammer, but also for some very cool practical applications like visualizing engineering models of 3D prints before they’re printed.

Hobby electronics team up with augmented reality

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Here’s an interesting take on using augmented reality alongside hobby electronics. The project, which comes from a group of researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory, starts off by making simple electronic devices like a radio with two knobs using network connected hardware. In other words, build something using an Arduino and include a way to get it on a network. With the radio example on knob is for tuning, the other adjusts the volume. But pick up an iPad and aim its camera at the device — which is what the image above is showing — and those knobs will get a lot more functionality. This opens up a whole set of virtual controls that can be assigned to different segments of the knob controllers.

This is certainly a better use of augmented reality than using it in advertisements which is where it usually shows up. We also think that the proliferation of personal electronics that include high-quality camera modules makes wide adoption a lot more plausible than some of the projector-based augmented reality we’ve seen. Check out a full demo in the video after the break and if that leaves you hungry for details you can get your hands on the whitepaper (PDF).

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Microsoft IllumiRoom breaks your video game out of its television prison

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We see a lot of video game tech coming out of the three console giants (Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo). With one look we can usually predict what is going to be a flop. Case and point is the Wii U whose sales have been less than extraordinary and Sony Move which is motion control directed as hardcore games who we believe are perfectly happy with the current evolution of their dual shock controllers. But this time around we think Microsoft has it nailed. They’re showing off technology they call IllumiRoom which uses a projector to bring your entire gaming room into the experience.

The image above is not doctored. This is a picture of IllumiRoom in action. A projector on the coffee table automatically calibrates to the room (using Kinect 3D data for mapping) in order to show realistic graphic rendering on the non-flat projection surfaces. In our mind, this comes straight out of Kinect hacking projects like the Hadouken projector. With this in place, the game designers are given free rein to come up with all kinds of different ways to use the feature. Stick with us after the break to see what they’ve developed.

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IR Based Augmented Reality

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For a final design project, [Frank] and his group took on an augmented reality project. The goal was to make objects interactively controllable by pointing a smartphone at them. Their solution was Augmented Reality Universal Controller and Identifier (ARUCI).

The system locates controllable objects by sensing IR beacons that contain identifiers for each object. The IR is received by a Wiimote sensor, which has been integrated into a custom PCB. This board sits in a 3D printed enclosure, and mounts to the back of a smartphone. The electronics are powered by tapping off of the phone’s battery.

Commands are sent to devices using a custom 2.4 GHz protocol which was implemented using the ATmega128RFA1. Each device has another ATmega to receive the signal and control the real world object. In their demo, the group shows the system controlling devices including a TV, a radio, and an RC car.

The system provides an interesting way to interact with objects, and the hardware integration is quite impressive. After the break, watch [Frank] give a demo.

[Read more...]

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