At long last I had the opportunity to try out the CastAR, a glasses-based Augmented Reality system developed by Technical Illusions. The hardware has been in the works now for a couple of years, but every time we have come across a demo we were thwarted by the long lines that accompany them. This time I was really lucky. [Jeri] gave us a private demo in a suite at the Palazzo during CES 2015. Reflecting on the experience, CastAR is exactly the type of Virtual Reality hardware I’ve been longing for.
[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.
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. Continue reading “castAR comes to Maker Faire NY 2013”
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.
Here’s an interesting interview with [Jeri Ellsworth] over at the Jenessee Network. Usually the interviews I see popup with people are fairly short and sweet but this one really delves into many subjects and takes its time to explore. They start off talking about how [Jeri] began with hacking, which was literally smashing toys “with rocks” to see what was inside. They move on to discuss her adventures in building a race car, and then racing it as a teen… as an act of defiance.
In case you didn’t know, [Jeri] has been full time at Valve for about a year. Much of the discussion focuses on this from about 20 minutes in. She doesn’t hold back on information about what her daily life is like at valve as well as her experience during the hiring process. An interesting fact is that she didn’t initially recognize the name “Valve” and ignored them for a while. She does admit that if they had mentioned portal she would have paid a little more attention.
I was unaware that she had a side job putting the overflow of pinball machines she aquires into bars. When she moved to valve, she shut down that business, but she’s been flooding the halls with pinball machines, much to the enjoyment of the older folks.
[Jeri Ellsworth] finally set aside some time to talk about the build process for her Commodore 64 bass keytar. We think what started by taking a band saw to the guitar body ended up as a fantastic new instrument.
When she was showing off the project at Maker Faire we really only got a cursory look at what it could do. Her most recent video covers all that went into pulling off the project. Once the bulk of the guitar body was gone she tore the guts out of a dead c64 in order to mate the case with the guitar neck. Always the craftsman, she altered the computer’s badge to preserve the iconic look, then went to work adding pickups to each string using piezo sensors. This was done with Maker Faire in mind because magnetic pickups would have been unreliable around all of the tesla coils one might find at the event. These were amplified and filtered before being processed via an FPGA which connects to the original c64 SID 6581 chip.
Several bright young engineers have been swiped up to work for Valve. Yes, that Valve, the game company. Amongst them are [Jeff Keyser] aka [Mighty ohm] and [Jeri Ellsworth], both names that we have seen on these pages many times. We’ve heard that Valve is a fun and very unique company to work for. Apparently there’s no solid hierarchy.
What we, and everyone else in the universe wants to know is what they are building! There were rumors and speculation of a game console that were quickly squashed. [Michael Abrash] let out some information in an interview that he was doing R&D into wearable computing. He also points out that he was not making a product. So, let the speculation begin!
We asked [Jeri] if this meant she couldn’t publish her own hacks anymore due to contractual agreements, but she said that she can still do them and has some cool stuff coming out soon.