Facebook to Buy Oculus VR



Facebook has agreed to purchase Oculus VR. The press values the deal at about $2 Billion USD in cash and stock. This is great news for Oculus’ investors. The rest of the world has a decidedly different opinion. [Notch], the outspoken creator of Minecraft, was quick to tweet that a possible rift port has now been canceled, as Facebook creeps him out. He followed this up with a blog post.

I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.

Here at Hackaday, we’ve been waiting a long time for affordable virtual reality. We’ve followed Oculus since the early days, all the way up through the recent open source hardware release of their latency tester. Our early opinion on the buyout is not very positive. Facebook isn’t exactly known for contributions to open source software or hardware, nor are they held in high regard for standardization in their games API. Only time will tell what this deal really means for the Rift.

The news isn’t all dark though. While Oculus VR has been a major catalyst for virtual reality displays, there are other players. We’ve got our eggs in the castAR basket. [Jeri, Rick] and the rest of the Technical Illusions crew have been producing some great demos while preparing CastAR for manufacture. Sony is also preparing Project Morpheus. The VR ball is rolling. We just hope it keeps on rolling – right into our living rooms.

Lichtspiel crosses board games with video games


Video games are amazing these days. Cinemagraphic game play, incredible accelerated graphics, you name it. The average tabletop board game though, has not received the benefit of all this technology. [Marcel] hopes to provide some options for changing that with Lichtspiel, an Interactive Digital Boardgame. Lichtspiel uses a Philips Pico-Beamer projector to project the game board onto a white surface. A camera (either a Raspberry Pi camera module or a Logitech USB webcam) then picks up the players interactions with the game board. Actual interaction is done with small black chips. When a player moves their chip, the vision system sends the x,y coordinates main processor. The game then changes based upon the chip position. [Marcel's] video shows two demonstrations, a matrix style board game simulation for two and a co-operative asteroids style game. In the asteroids style game one player moves the ship while the other aims the weapons.

We can’t help but see the similarities between this system and the board game demos for castAR , though we feel they fill different niches. Lichtspiel does away with 3D, and by doing so doesn’t require projection glasses to play. Lichtspiel definitely has possibilities. We’d love to see [Marcel] open up his software design so that it can be further developed.

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Augmented Reality Breadboarding


[Scott] sent in this tantalizing view of the what could be the future of bread boarding. His day job is at EquipCodes, where he’s working on augmented reality systems for the industrial sector. Most of EquipCodes augmented reality demos involve large electric motors and power transmission systems. When someone suggested a breadboard demo, [Scott] was able to create a simple 555 led blinker circuit as a proof of concept. The results are stunning. An AR glyph tells the software what circuit it is currently viewing. The software then shows a layout of the circuit. Each component can be selected to bring up further information.

The system also acts as a tutor for first time circuit builders – showing  them where each component and wire should go. We couldn’t help but think of our old Radio Shack 150 in 1 circuit kit while watching [Scott] assemble the 555 blinker. A breadboard would be a lot more fun than all those old springs! The “virtual” layout can even be overlayed on real one. Any misplaced components would show up before power is turned on (and the magic smoke escapes).

Now we realize this is just a technology demonstrator. Any circuit to be built would have to exist in the software’s database. Simple editing software like Fritzing could be helpful in this case. We’re also not sure how easy it would be working with a tablet between you and your circuit. A pair of CastAR glasses would definitely come in handy here. Even so, we’re excited by this video and hope that some of this augmented reality technology makes its way into our hands.

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InfinitEye HMD Brings 210 Degree FOV to the Party


Head mounted displays are coming in hot and heavy this year. InfinitEye doesn’t have an official web page yet, so we’re linking to a review done by TheRoadToVR. Note that this is the second version of the display. InfinitEye released plans for their V1 HMD back in February. The InfinitEye prototype looks strikingly like the early Oculus Rift prototypes. Gaffers tape and what appears to be the frame from a face shield hold together the optical system. It’s this optical system which is interesting. InfinitEye has decided to go with head mounted LCD screens, similar to the rift, and unlike castAR’s projection system.

The InfinitEye team decided to go with two screens, giving them a whopping 1280×800 resolution per eye. The optics are also simple – fresnel lenses. This is all similar to the first version of the goggles, however the InfinitEye team claims that this new edition provides a 210 degree field of view. What we don’t know is exactly what they changed. We’re curious if the wider field of view will reduce the Sim Sickness some of us have felt with the rift – though to be fair, almost any head mounted display requires some time to adjust. What we are sure of is that the future is bright for virtual (and augmented) reality.

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Step into the Box


Take three industrial robots, two 4’ x 8’ canvases, and several powerful video projectors. Depending on who is doing the robot programming you may end up with a lot of broken glass and splinters, or you may end up with The Box.  The latest video released by the creators project, The Box features industrial robots and projection mapping. We recently featured Disarm from the same channel.

The Box is one of those cases of taking multiple existing technologies and putting them together with breathtaking results. We can’t help but think of the possibilities of systems such as CastAR while watching the video. The robots move two large canvases while projectors display a series of 3D images on them. A third robot moves the camera.

In the behind the scenes video, the creators revealed that the robots are programmed using a Maya plugin. The plugin allowed them to synchronize the robot’s movements along with the animation. The entire video is a complex choreographed dance – even the position of the actor was pre-programmed into Maya.

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castAR comes to Maker Faire NY 2013


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


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.