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castAR: bridging the physical world with the virtual worlds; 3D holographic like projections in AR, fully immersive environments in VR
3,863 backers pledged $1,052,110 to help bring this project to life.

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Journeys

Posted by Technical Illusions (Creator)
55 likes

Technical Illusions wrapped up our castAR Kickstarter campaign a bit over two years ago. We can safely say that it was your enthusiasm that made Technical Illusions’ castAR one of the first Kickstarter projects to raise over a million dollars. Kickstarting castAR provided us with the foundation that Jeri and I used to begin building both a company and the castAR product. During the last two years we've learned a lot about the market we are in, how to put a business together, and the expectations set forth by you, our Backers.

In the last few months we’ve debated internally how we can best meet those expectations. On one hand, it’s become clear that many Backers want a product with full software experiences. On the other, our Kickstarter campaign was designed to deliver hardware that would be much more suited for developers looking to create those experiences. Simultaneously, we’ve been working on a consumer product that will deliver the experience many Backers have been expressing they want. But the reality is that a consumer product has a much more complex development cycle.

After much internal debate, we’ve decided to give everyone who was expecting castAR hardware a free pair of consumer castAR at release and will be fully reimbursing your Kickstarter backings if you follow the process we describe in a FAQ. You believed in us, so you get a castAR for free once the consumer product is released. To further express our appreciation, we’d also like to send you a couple small thank you gifts designed just for you, our Backers. We wear our Kickstarter success as a badge of honor, and we hope you will too. The link to the FAQ at the bottom of this update will explain the details. 

We certainly would not be where we’re at without your generous support and trust. Respecting you and your expectations has been our guiding principal as we’ve discussed our next move. You committed to castAR with your emotional and financial support and we want to make sure we honor that commitment by showing you the same respect and commitment to you. We want to give you what you want to the best of our ability, and not unduly hang on to your backing while we work to make it happen.

Jeri and I want to sincerely thank you for embarking on this journey with us. The entire process has been very humbling and we have especially enjoyed interacting with all of you. At the start of any journey it is not always exactly clear where you might end up. While we've made some mistakes and course corrections along the way we think that they will ultimately lead to a better product.

Jeri and I aren’t going away and we will always make time to ensure that your questions are answered and that your comments are received. Always feel free to email Jeri [jeri@castar.com] or me [rick@castar.com] directly.

Once again, you’ve made this all possible. We’re excited to be sharing castAR’s success with our greatest and most trusted supporters. 

Jeri & Rick 

PS: You’ll be getting a Kickstarter survey so we can collect the information needed to get you your money. We have a FAQ that explains the details at http://castAR.com/kickstarter-faq/

A Message from Jeri and Rick

Posted by Technical Illusions (Creator)
29 likes

Dear Backers,

Today, Jeri and I are delighted to let you know that we have received a venture capital investment from the firm Playground Global. If you are not familiar with VC firms, you might have heard of one of Playground’s founders, Andy Rubin, who helped create the Android operating system for mobile devices. We’re excited to have the support of the Playground team because they have a specific focus on hardware startups and have already started to help us a lot.

What does this mean for Kickstarter? Delivery! We remain committed, as we always have, to giving our Kickstarter backers a high quality product and experience. Of course with only nine people and an ambitious engineering plan, it clearly has taken us longer than we had planned, but among other things, this investment will make sure we complete the Kickstarter in the next several months.

We recognize every day that we would not be where we are at without the support of you, our backers. You believed in us when we put together a video showing a product of 90% hot glue, some friends using it, and some crude software. That support reassured us that we weren’t crazy, and it helped send investors the message that there is significant excitement for castAR.

VCs and Investments

When a venture capitalist firm invests into a company, they are exchanging part ownership for an infusion of cash. We in turn take that cash to grow the company: hire people, purchase equipment and parts, and business activities. This should not be confused as an acquisition.

From the day Jeri and I began this effort, we always intended Technical Illusions to become a company. I can’t begin to tell you how much work this has been, as there is so much to learn and do outside of our normal engineering backgrounds. In the first year, we experienced long hours, isolation, arguments, perseverance, pride, lawyers, paperwork, and all along, working on how to turn this into something real: a product and a company.

During the early days of the company, we needed to find a way to raise money in order to transition from a living room project to producing a real product. Kickstarter was an obvious choice for us, as it allowed people like you to vote with your money on the viability of the product and the people behind the project. The money you raise during a campaign might be enough to create a one off product, but not necessarily enough to build a sustainable company.

We always wanted to be very forthcoming about the product details and the inner workings. As you balance out the needs to grow into a company and a business, there exists certain aspects and timelines that you can’t reveal without significantly hurting yourself. Part of the VC investment process is that the investing firm does due diligence on the company: the founders, the viability of the product, the roadmap, patents, finance, and other factors.  Revealing too much to the public could jeopardize the due diligence process ( and thus your ability to raise money ) as well as clue your competition in on your early plans.

The Future

As we have developed the product, it has evolved over time. Part of the evolution comes from normal discovery process of creating and trying out features and turning them into something usable. Part of it evolves from our guiding principle: is it fun? We’ll go over these changes in the next few months.

And finally…

One observation we’ve made along the way is that people kept calling us “castAR” as a company name. We used the financing as an excuse to change our official company name to castAR. It is still ok to find us at our old domain TechnicalIllusions.com.

Below you will find a few pictures we took around the original Kickstarter campaign time.  We look forward to showing you some exciting things in the near future!

Sincerely,

Rick & Jeri

Jeri being interviewed on Triangulation by Leo Laport.  This was in the early hours of the Kickstarter campaign.
Jeri being interviewed on Triangulation by Leo Laport. This was in the early hours of the Kickstarter campaign.
During the middle of the campaign, Toby was waiting on Jeri's chair for her to give him some attention.
During the middle of the campaign, Toby was waiting on Jeri's chair for her to give him some attention.
Jeri the terrorist?  Carrying all of our electronics through security during the press tour of Kickstarter sometimes got us noticed.  This was on our way back home during the campaign.
Jeri the terrorist? Carrying all of our electronics through security during the press tour of Kickstarter sometimes got us noticed. This was on our way back home during the campaign.
We did a weekend game jam during the campaign.  We can't always be entertaining during the entire streaming event, so Toby and CoCo helped to fill up some of the air time.  Love the couch!
We did a weekend game jam during the campaign. We can't always be entertaining during the entire streaming event, so Toby and CoCo helped to fill up some of the air time. Love the couch!
Franklin inspecting the delivery man picking up early developer glasses for delivery to backers.
Franklin inspecting the delivery man picking up early developer glasses for delivery to backers.

30

Posted by Technical Illusions (Creator)
23 likes

Warning: This update gets a little side tracked at the beginning and is also being written in first person by myself, Rick. It will eventually circle around to some relevant stuff for castAR. Trust me.

30 years ago the Amiga was launched. This weekend, the anniversary is being celebrated in castAR’s hometown at the Computer History Museum. Coincidentally, Jeri and I also started Technical Illusions 30 months ago. We were asked to participate in the event by showing castAR, so Jeri and myself will be spending our weekend showing something unique on the glasses. 

Even though the Commodore 64 was both of ours first computer, the Amiga holds a special place for us both. The Amiga marked the point where I really started to learn programming (C, using the Lattice compiler ). It was also during my college years that four of us got together to make Black Crypt, my first professionally published video game ( through Electronic Arts ) of which this formed the studio Raven Software. 

We have been thinking for a while now on how to honor the Amiga. Should we recreate a level from Lemmings? Maybe a new version of the Boing! demo. Then an idea struck. I spent about a week of my free time prototyping my concept out. I'll leave out the specifics of what I am doing and offer you a few teaser images. If you are a fan of the Amiga, we encourage you to come to the show to see the Amiga games you love, running in 3d, in real time, on castAR. 

Amiga Workbench and the Boing! demo behind
Amiga Workbench and the Boing! demo behind
The original Lemmings
The original Lemmings

Now, to the circling around part. 

If you are familiar with OpenGL, you already know that as the API progressed away from the fixed function pipeline to shaders and the core API, the complexity of getting up and running on OpenGL grew greatly. Over the last year, I have been slowly working on a small OpenGL framework, initially to be used for some internal tools. The app we are showing this weekend uses this framework, which means that castAR is integrated into the framework. 

The next SDK update will include the source for the framework, so that you use it as a basis to get stand-alone OpenGL apps up and running as well as a full understanding of how to integrate the low level castAR SDK into an environment. The source will also have a simple example of how to use the framework to render a 3d cube, which will be displayed / tracked with castAR. Doing the demo for the Amiga show was a fun little side project, but it also allowed me to improve the framework and get castAR integration in.  All of which will benefit you. 

Now, the framework is not the end-all be-all environments out there, but it is an easy way to get started with some core features of OpenGL, including shaders, textures, index / vertex buffers, frame buffer objects, and a few other things. It uses SDL as the basic library to create a window and an OpenGL context. We haven't decided yet on how we will release it, as we would love to have it be an open environment where people can contribute bug fixes or new features. If you have suggestions, please send us a note at contact@castAR.com .

-Rick

A Tale of Two Volumes

Posted by Technical Illusions (Creator)
38 likes

When setting up our Kickstarter campaign, we had two distinct groups of glasses. The first set of glasses were made available earlier in the process, but at a higher price and low volume. The second set of glasses was to be delivered later at a cheaper price. We wanted to detail some of the choices and factors that separates the two sets of glasses out, what we’ve learned by creating the early dev glasses, and some of the improvements to processes, procedures, production, and parts going through. Some of what we learned was of the natural evolution of product design. Some of the choices we made were due to the low volume run vs large volume run and cost reduction.

Mechanical Design

Mechanical design comprises the physical pieces and how the connect or operate. This includes such things as where the electronics fit inside of the glasses, how the nose piece attaches, projector mounting, etc. Mechanical design is tied closely with industrial design as well as electronics. For example, electrical engineers need to figure out board design and the connections between components on the board. At the same time, the board needs to be constrained by mechanical design on how it physically fits. 

 What we learned from Early Dev 

The early developer glasses had four primary components in the glasses: an electronics board, a camera module, and two projectors. These were all separate components, some separated with significant space and independent mounting. The distance separating the components made it a challenge in coupling them together with flex circuits. With the two projectors being independently mounted, external forces applied to the glasses could flex the projectors independently of each other. 

What we changed going forward 

With the next generation of glasses, we are going to bringing these components into one tied in design. This will keep the entire module compact, reduce connecting components, and improved physical stability. 

Industrial Design 

Industrial design refers to the ascetics of the product. Does it look like something you would want to be seen with, fit comfortably, etc. The early development glasses had very little industrial design. They are a bit bulky and look like something from a 70s cheap sci-fi movie. The reason we did this was because it was more important to produce working glasses than to be fully fashionable. As we iterate on the mechanical design and learn from these glasses that will allow the industrial designers to understand the constraints of the product and come up with a design that looks and fits much nicer. 

What we learned from Early Dev 

We spent very little effort on industrial design for the early dev glasses. Testing functionality of the glasses were the most important factor of the early dev glasses, so industrial design would have been a waste of resources for such a small production run. We did learn that no one liked the nose piece we used. 

What we changed going forward 

Noses come in different shapes and sizes, across cultures. That will be important design consideration going forward. While the weight of our glasses is light to begin with, we want to continue significant weight reduction so that you can wear the glasses for long periods of time with hardly noticing that they are there. 

Electronics 

Most choices in electronics have a significant lead time. Some parts you need to buy in volume; some parts need to be manufactured for specific cases. This results in trying to make smart decisions early on as to how all of these components will work and interact with each other. Even with much prototyping, you may not always be able to anticipate how everything truly will function, and as always, there will be some variance between planned / tested work and real life conditions. 

What we learned from Early Dev 

Our camera sensor choice is one such example. The camera module we ended up using draws more power than expected, which generates excess heat. In addition, the sensor has some noise and other artifacts. 

What we changed going forward 

Having more time and resources, we’ve been able to do more research on different modules. Our plans also changed in terms of how we want to do tracking. We’ve identified a better sensor choice going forward that should significantly improve the results. 

Optics 

Similar to electronics, optics have lead times and unexpected interactions. In small quantities, lenses tend to be made of glass. As you go to more of a mass production, you switch away from glass to plastic in some cases. Plastic lenses can be made from molds, thus the per-unit cost of plastic lenses are cheaper, but there is a significant cost in producing the mold. 

What we learned from Early Dev

 As we iterated through prototypes, we decided that the camera module should have a very wide field of view. This will give you a great tracking range. The side effect is that as you increase the field of view, the IR dots from tracking become smaller, so you have less data to compute an accurate centroid. As you move away from the IR marker, the dots become smaller and smaller, so inaccuracy creeps in. A wide field of view lens can also have an interesting and complex distortion curve that you need to correct for. 

What we changed going forward 

We are going to a smaller field of view lens. Simultaneously, we are changing the way IR dots are scattered and presented to the camera, which will compensate for the smaller field of view. 

Production 

Production involves the entire manufacturing process, from producing and populating the circuit boards with electronic components, projector assembly, including panel and optics, final assembly of all the components together inside of the glasses, and calibration of the display and tracking to tie the visuals all together. 

What we learned from Early Dev 

Our prior calibration method involved a timely process that involved someone to sit all the way through it. In addition, some errors could come into play that would produce undesirable results. This delayed our shipping ability. While the process is adequate for a small production run, it does not scale. 

What we changed going forward

We’ve created an entirely new calibration process that greatly speeds up the process, produces more accurate results, and takes us on the pathway to mass production. As we continue to make significant improvements on the next generation of glasses that will be delivered to the Kickstarter backers, we will be offering the adopters of the early development glasses currently shipping the option to exchange them out for the next generation glasses, free of charge. 

Shipping

What we learned from Early Dev 

Execution on hardware and software to get it to a point that all the pieces come together can be quite challenging.  The transition from concept and prototyping doesn't always lead to problems or issues that you can resolve early on.  The glasses are combined from many individual components (the video interface box, cabling to the glasses, the glasses housing, projectors, panels behind the projectors, tracking model, FPGA board, and various circuits and connecting cables.)  One issue that we identified involved how to install the small LCD panel into the projector housing.  If you apply pressure in the wrong spot, the panel may crack slightly.  Unanticipated issues like the one described had to be solved.  Throughout most of the creation of the early dev glasses, we have been around nine people.  Given the complex environment of hardware and software, castAR has been a big undertaking for a team of that size.

What we changed going forward

Obviously, we’ve missed our original estimates. We’ve learned a lot along the way and the product that you will receive for the next generation will be significantly improved over our original plans. Given our current plans on how everything will finalize and go to manufacturing, we expect to be able to ship the next generation early next year.  We apologize for the delay, but hope you will be pleased with the improvements of the product.

Toby

Toby has learned that when everyone moved out of his house and into their own office, he gets lonely and misses everyone.

Toby laying on a coffee table as it is hot out
Toby laying on a coffee table as it is hot out

Want access to the castAR SDK?

Posted by Technical Illusions (Creator)
17 likes

The castAR SDK with Unity 5 integration is available for download! Email owen@castAR.com to get your unique access code and download instructions.