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Former Valve staffers unveil CastAR

Former Valve staffers unveil CastAR

The Technical Illusions CastAR system combines projectors, a camera, shutter glasses and more to create an immersive augmented reality system.

A pair of former Valve employees have announced the formation of a new company dedicated to one thing: bringing to market the augmented reality technology they were hoping to develop for Valve's hardware arm.

Hackers Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, formerly employed by Valve prior to the layoffs in February that saw 25 employees leave the company, have launched the company Technical Illusions with a view to releasing a system of augmented reality gaming devices called CastAR.

Unveiled at the Maker Faire in San Mateo this weekend, and written up by Make, the project uses LCD-shutter glasses with two tiny projectors mounted on them to produce a virtual reality environment that is projected wherever the wearer is looking.

The system works by having the viewer peer through the glasses at a specially-constructed retro-reflective panel edged with infra-red LEDs. The projectors, one mounted over each lens, send out the augmented reality images while the shutter glasses work to ensure that each eye only receives images from its own projector - creating the illusion of depth. Finally, the webcam - mounted on the nose-bridge of the glasses - tracks the LEDs to allow the system to adjust the projected images according to the motion of the user's head, in a similar manner to the famous 3D demos created by Johnny Chung Lee using Nintendo Wiimotes.

The result: the reflective surface becomes a window into a virtual 3D world, with users able to move around a virtual objects, peering round its corners to view areas that would otherwise be invisible. The head-tracking system can also be used to directly control a game, with visitors to the Technical Illusions tent at the event being treated to a flying game. Accessories are also in development, with an LED mounted on the end of a chopstick creating a 'magic wand' that allows the user to play a Jenga-like title and RFID-enabled playing cards already in the prototype stage. The system even allows for multiplayer gaming on a single surface, ensuring that users only see their own perspective.

'These demos are the start and the glasses are early prototypes,' the pair have announced. 'Each system not only lets you play, but also includes a complete development kit. You can get up and running quickly using our simple scripting language, or go as deep as you want by connecting our API to your game. And don’t worry, this is an open platform. If you make something, you can give it away or sell it anywhere you want.'

As with most such projects, CastAR combines a series of existing products into a single, innovative creation: a pair of liquid-crystal shutter glasses, familiar to anyone with an active 3D monitor or TV, is combined with two pico-projectors, a reflective surface, a small webcam and a shedload of infra-red LEDs to create a highly complex new creation.

It is this complexity that is likely to be the major barrier to the technology taking off. In particular, the requirement for a retro-reflective surface (one that aims the reflection straight back at you) makes this technology unusable in a normal living room, for instance. However, it could be used in a "holo-deck" type environment where the walls and ceiling are covered in reflective material and the user - indeed multiple users - are able to navigate a virtual world.

Thus fair, Technical Illusions has not provided a release date or pricing for the hardware.

12 Comments

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mi1ez 20th May 2013, 11:30 Quote
Quote:
The shutter glasses even allow for multiplayer gaming on a single surface, ensuring that users only see their own perspective.

Wouldn't this mean a further halving of frame rates?
Corky42 20th May 2013, 11:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
Wouldn't this mean a further halving of frame rates?

From my understanding liquid-crystal shutter glasses only block your eye from seeing the image intended for the other eye, the projector is what displays the image so frame rate would depend on the projector.
What i want to know is when we will be able to plug our selves into a game, after all our senses are nothing more than electrical impulse sent to our brains :)
Meanmotion 20th May 2013, 12:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
Quote:
The shutter glasses even allow for multiplayer gaming on a single surface, ensuring that users only see their own perspective.

Wouldn't this mean a further halving of frame rates?

That's slightly misleading in the way it's phrased. I've changed it to simply say "the system allows..."

The point is that what users are seeing is their own projection not a 'universal' projection like in virtual reality systems that use TV screens or rear projection displays. Here several people can be in one reflective box/environment/holodeck and can be having their own unique experience of the virtual environment. There's the potential for some interference if multiple users are looking at the same spot but the combination of the retro-reflection and the timing on the shutter glasses should keep this to a minimum.
ashchap 20th May 2013, 13:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
Quote:

The shutter glasses even allow for multiplayer gaming on a single surface, ensuring that users only see their own perspective.
Wouldn't this mean a further halving of frame rates?

I suspect that is the main reason for the retro-reflective surface and the head mounted projectors - the light from the projectors will be reflected back only in the direction it came from i.e. back to the user's eyes and not to anyone else's. If it is effective enough then there should be no limit to the number of simultaneous users.

This also means a much less powerful projector is required as very little light is wasted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retroreflector
mi1ez 20th May 2013, 13:59 Quote
AH! I see now, Thanks Meanmotion and ashchap.
edzieba 20th May 2013, 14:06 Quote
For anyone thinking "this looks familiar", this is essentially 1998's X'tal Vision HMD, without the hilariously large headset.
mi1ez 20th May 2013, 14:25 Quote
OK, next question... How do they deal with convergence of the projectors? Do yyou need to be a very specific distance from the screen?
mi1ez 20th May 2013, 14:26 Quote
...not to mention focus!
Griffter 20th May 2013, 14:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Corky42
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
Wouldn't this mean a further halving of frame rates?

From my understanding liquid-crystal shutter glasses only block your eye from seeing the image intended for the other eye, the projector is what displays the image so frame rate would depend on the projector.
What i want to know is when we will be able to plug our selves into a game, after all our senses are nothing more than electrical impulse sent to our brains :)

Oculus Rift :-)

then Logitech ChillStream edition can make an oculus rift with streams of air 2.0
Griffter 20th May 2013, 14:38 Quote
PS: i caught the matrix snippet :-)
LordPyrinc 20th May 2013, 17:41 Quote
Sounds a little too complicated for the task they are trying to achieve. I'm thinking more along the lines of 3D glasses (ones with their own screens, not shutters) mounted with motion detection hardware. Then add a couple of cameras (also mounted on the glasses) to detect the LED object being held and moved by hand (i.e. the LED chopstick). Either way you're still going to have to plug the glasses into something for the game/video feed, but at least you eliminate the whole weird reflecto screeno gizmo. It's not like you would be walking around while wearing the device anyways.

Basically something like this but with motion sensing and cameras.

http://www.sony.co.uk/product/personal-3d-viewer/hmz-t2
notmeagain 20th May 2013, 17:54 Quote
Why bother with augmented reality right now?

Some of the indie developments coming from the oculus rift project are staggering to behold, in my eyes AR will be quickly superceded by Augmented VR, where with the use of external sensors your body is mapped in realtime with the avatar in the game/simulation.

AR definitely has it's place, be that as a HUD in a car, glasses etc, but for an immersive gaming experience AVR is definitely the way forward.

Yes, it's reclusive and limits "social" interaction... but come on! being trapped in Skyrim for 18 hours in full VR? you can't ask for more. (work safe material that is)
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