Over the last couple of years there have been rumor and rumbling of two new types of virtual reality that might finally become practical and realistic to use. The Occulus Rift VR system has been the frontrunner but Jerry Elsworth’s castAR system has had its supporters. In the last week castAR has launched a Kickstarter project to take it from a series of cool one off devices to a consumer product.
CastAR takes a lot of explanation. Most VR system’s including the Occulus Rift work by putting two small screen just in front of your eyes and then tracking your head movements. As your head moves the screens show two slightly different images and there is an illusion of movement. Because of the positioning of the screens right in front of your eyes it can be totally immersive and hence is virtual reality. CastAR is an Augmented reality instead and works rather differently. The glasses do not put light directly into your eyes but rather project light out away from your head which is bounced back to your eyes by a reflective surface.
So as a user what would you experience? Firstly the glasses do not restrict your normal vision any more than a pair of sunglasses. The world looks normal through them except for areas which have the reflective cloth. These areas look like 3d holograms. Cover a wall in the cloth and you have a screen the size of the wall. Cover the floor and be surrounded by holograms. Unroll some on the table and have a tabletop gaming area. Move your head and the perspective on the holograms moves as if it is a 3d object.. The big advantage from an accessibility point of view is that motion sickness is much much reduced as the holograms actually are physically located where they appear to be rather than an inch or so in front of your eye.
The scene can be interacted with with with a wireless wand which is something between a joystick and gamepad or with any other PC peripheral. Specifically mentioned are mouse, keyboard and interestingly the Leap Motion. At the moment the castAR is PC only but there is an Android version in the works as well.
The Kickstarter is fully funded already with $624,000 from a $400,00 target and has 19 days to run. If you are interested in getting one yourself the starter package is $189 and includes the glasses and a 1m x 1m surface with delivery September 2014.