castAR is a projected augmented reality system that displays holographic-like 3D projections right in front of you inspired by Star Wars’ holographic depictions. It is another alternative to Head Mounted Displays that allows you to bring you augmented reality and virtual reality experience in a compact and lightweight glasses-type of product. What differs the castAR system from HMD devices like the Oculus Rift is that instead of an LCD display it relies on micro projectors that project the light on retro-reflective material. You also get head tracking and additional controllers such as a “magic wand” and objects using RFID tags that allow you to interact with real objects in augmented reality. And another great thing is that you get stereoscopic 3D support as a part of the experience that is possible thanks to the use of dual micro projectors. Think for example about a board game going digital and multiplayer over the Internet, this could be a great use for this system and probably that was the general idea behind the design of that concept. As we all know the problem with projects such as castAR is that they are so different from the traditional display devices that you need to have games specially designed to be played with them and that takes some time, so even with the project already funded and reaching its original goal the announced shipping date for the hardware is September 2014 and even by then the software for castAR probably is not going to be that much. Have in mind that castAR is primary designed around the concept of Augmented Reality and not Virtual Reality, so it will probably be much better for AR than VR experience.
To tell you the truth I was not as excited about castAR as when Oculus Rift Kickstarter project launched, at least not before the announcement that castAR will be supported by the Vireio Perception open source driver. This means that when the first public build of version 2.0 gets released on November 28th it should already have support for the castAR system, thus allowing you to play existing games in a virtual reality environment with head tracking and stereoscopic 3D functionality when the castAR system comes out next year. This is great news and I’m also expecting to see how the the Vireio Perception 2.0 will perform with Oculus Rift as it is still the only free and open source solution for “converting” games that were not designed for the Rift to be played on the HMD. The other two available solutions are commercial products – DDD TriDef (only in beta) and vorpX, though I will not be surprised to see TriDef also getting support for castAR in the near future.
castAR’s projected augmented reality system is comprised of two main components: a pair of glasses and a surface. The frames of the glasses contain two micro-projectors—one for each eye. Each projector casts a perspective view of a stereoscopic 3D image onto the surface. Your eyes focus on this projected image at a very natural and comfortable viewing distance. A tiny camera in-between the projectors scans for infrared identification markers placed on the surface. The camera uses these markers to precisely track your head position and orientation in the physical world, enabling the software to accurately adjust how the holographic scene should appear to you. The glasses get their video signal through an HDMI connection. The camera is connected via a USB port on the PC.
The surface is made of retro-reflective sheeting material, similar to the kind used in traffic signs and high-visibility safety clothing. The primary benefit to using this material is that it bounces the majority of light from our projectors directly back toward the glasses with very little scattering. This enables the simultaneous use of a single surface by multiple people while keeping each viewer’s view private from the others.
Since your vision is focused at a natural viewing distance, you shouldn’t experience eye strain. Projected augmented reality allows you to simultaneously see both virtual and real-world surroundings, so you are spared other sorts of discomfort as well. For example, an important aspect of your body’s understanding of the physical world is tied to your inner ear—the part of your body responsible for balance and motion sensing. When you are able to see your physical world, your eyesight and inner ear will stay in sync with your movements. Most people do not feel nausea or motion sickness when using castAR and projected augmented reality.