The future of virtual reality doesn't belong to the Oculus Rift alone: CastAR is a new augmented/virtual reality system which just got funded on Kickstarter, first co-developed by veteran game developer Rick Johnson and renowned hacker Jeri Ellsworth when they were at Valve Software. Both of them were laid off from Valve last year, but as they were leaving the company, CEO Gabe Newell did a very rare and cool thing: Let them keep the technology they originally build for Valve.
As you can see by the video above, the CastAR system solves three problems that may hinder the Oculus Rift from going mass market: The headset is significantly less heavy and bulky, while the imagery is projected on a surface in front of you, as opposed to being on a display screen right up against your eyeballs. This addresses the awkwardness some people feel with being so close to a VR headset display; CastAR's tracking system also seems to fix the "seasick" effect associated with all VR systems:
"The tracking on castAR is dead on accurate," as Jeri tells me, "so there are no issues that are found with other head mounted displays like motion sickness." The system enables both augmented reality and full immersive virtual reality, which should increase its appeal on the market. (I suspect AR games and applications will be more popular, since they're inherently more social.) So will the cost: The Kickstarter is offering the CastAR goggles for under $200.
"I do see it becoming mass market," as Jeri puts it to me, "but it's too early to predict the [final market] cost. It's already extremely inexpensive for what it does." She also thinks the system will appeal to fans of immersive virtual worlds like Second Life:
For them, she says, "[t]he biggest appeal would be the comfort of the system, because you could wear it for hours without eye strain. The reflective surface [where the image is displayed] is as comfortable as looking at a monitor."
Valve originally intended to integrate this system with its first-person shooter games, but apparentlydecided to go in another direction. (Jeri talks about its origin at Valve in the video below.)
"Gabe told me he will always be a Jeri fan when he was letting me go," Jeri tells me. As for why he let her and Johnson keep the technology: "I suspect there was a little guilt," she says. "Maybe he thought I couldn't refine it as far as I did. I will never know what was going on back when they let us go." Whatever the reason, it's great that CastAR got a second life -- and VR technology gets another device worth investing and developing for. Read more about the project on its KickStarter page.
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