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New augmented, virtual reality tech goes from Valve to Kickstarter

October 14, 2013 | By Kris Graft




Former Valve Software hardware guru Jeri Ellsworth and programmer Rick Johnson are taking the next step in bringing a new kind of augmented and virtual reality to the market.

Just as the pair promised, their company, Technical Illusions, began a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to make the CastAR system a commercial product. The campaign started today, with a goal of $400,000.

The background of CastAR is significant in that it originally started as a skunkworks project in Valve's hardware R&D department (an early prototype was called the "headcrab"). Ellsworth and Johnson were among a small round of layoffs at Valve early this year, and company founder Gabe Newell let the pair take the CastAR project with them, and continue developing it on their own.

CastAR promises impressive-looking augmented reality that puts visuals onto a physical surface. Using a pair of glasses, it projects a miniature virtual reality in front of your eyes, and allows you to interact with whatever it is you can see. The tech utilizes a combination of images beamed from a connected PC, and a retroreflective projection screen.

Additionally, by clipping on a pair of lenses to the CastAR glasses, players can use the tech for full-blown VR.

Ellsworth says the possibilities for the device go beyond games, and may extend to data visualization and education. "If you really wanted to go crazy, you could even turn your entire room into a Holodeck," she said in the Kickstarter video (above).

For developers, Ellsworth and Johnson's Kickstarter says they will offer a CastAR SDK, Unity integration, demos and sample projects and potentially additional engine support and support for currently-existing VR applications.

If you're going to the Gamasutra-affiliated GDC Next (November 5-7), Technical Illusions and the CastAR tech will be on-hand as special guests to demonstrate the device on the show floor.

Developers can learn more at Technical Illusions' website.


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