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Eyes-on the CastAR, augmented-reality glasses built by former Valve engineers

Alex Wawro | Nov. 8, 2013
Strapping tiny computers to your face is popular enough now that it's easy to lump Technical Illusions' CastAR augmented-reality glasses in with Google Glass, the Oculus Rift and other high-tech eyewear.

The obvious use for this stuff is to cover a table or game board with it, but you can also hang it up on walls, lay it on the floor or arrange it anywhere you want to create an augmented-reality screen. While testing the CastAR prototype I played a game with multiple sheets of material on the table, the walls and the floor, and I found that peeking around or under a table in real time and see digital phantasms leaping around on the walls and floors is a surprisingly unsettling experience. You can control CastAR software using anything that hooks into your PC, including gesture controllers like the Leap Motion, which could lead to some intriguing Minority Report-style software that lets you flip and move through 3D interfaces.

When you move your head while wearing the CastAR glasses the images displayed on the sheets will adjust to match your perspective—you can walk around a 3D model to view it from different angles, or move your head closer to the surface to zoom in on images. It's a neat trick made possible by a tiny tracking camera on the bridge of the glasses that tracks your head movement in 3D space using infrared markers in the world around you. Ellsworth claims this tracking system is far more accurate than the gyroscopes used by headsets like the Rift.

The idea is to build these tracking markers into products that use the reflective material, such that you could have a game board or a poster-sized sheet on the wall with sensors built into the corners. When I tested the CastAR there was only one IR tracking marker on the table and thus it was possible to muck up the visor by blocking line-of-sight between the CastAR's tracking camera and the IR marker, but having multiple markers in the room should alleviate that problem when the CastAR becomes available next year.

You can get your hands on a prototype version of the CastAR glasses by backing their ongoings Kickstarter to the tune of $900, but I can't recommend you do so unless you've a vested interest in developing augmented-reality software. The developer prototype should be even smaller than the version I tested at GDC, but it won't be as light or comfortable as the finished product—which is projected to weigh less than a quarter of a pound—and there won't be much in the way of software—games or otherwise—available. The final version is expected to launch late next year at a projected price of $189, and by that point there should hopefully be a broad array of augmented-reality software available that supports the CastAR.


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