For the past couple of years, virtual reality has really been the only kid on the block. Whether it’s the Gear VR, Oculus, Google Cardboard or the Vive, there’s been a lot more buzz there than for say, Microsoft’s Hololens. And again, a good part of that comes from the extraordinary cost of AR. Google glass, an early pseudo-AR device ran $1500, and Microsoft’s HoloLens comes in at over $3000. That’s in large part due to technical challenges.
It’s relatively easy to block out the real world with a screen and just push a totally different image straight at your eyeballs. It’s a radically different proposition to analyze the real world, add information to it, and do so with translucent screens that don’t impair your vision. Plus, VR usually has the benefit of pulling all of its computing power from a nearby PC, whereas the entire point of AR is that you’re free to roam about the real world. Tethers are antithetical to the technology’s goals. For it to work then, you need advanced projection, a robust system to process and render images, and it has to be able to fit into something that’s only a bit larger than a pair of sunglasses. Oh! And it has to be something that your average person could reasonably buy. Simple, right?
CastAR hopes to overcome these challenges by hiring the best people it can. While it started as a crowd-funded project by Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, two former Valve (i.e. one of the companies behind the Vive VR headset) engineers, castAR has since ballooned. It’s gobbling up top talent from various industries and pulling in plenty of venture capital to fuel the expansion. Among their new hires are executives from Disney and Zynga as well as Darrell Rodriguez, former president and of Lucas Arts and COO of a major game publisher Electronic Arts.
“The key to bringing this together is hitting every problem on every front,” Rodriguez told me. “Ellsworth is one of the most talented electrical engineers around, and I know she has the foundation set. But we also need to prove to people that this is something they’ll want in their homes, so we’re working on bringing the best experiences we can so that people will have something amazing when they open the box.”
To that end, castAR founded a game studio in Salt Lake City, and they’re working closely with plenty of other organizations to make sure the device has around 10 hours of entertainment ready-to-go when the device goes on sale next year. Between their Palo Alto and Salt Lake City locations, the company now has more than 70 employees — all with years of experience in digital entertainment — working to make sure that this will be something special.
Despite the pedigree and the momentum behind it, Rodriguez laments that it can be difficult to get people on board with it until they put the headset on. “It’s hard to imagine what it’s really capable of because it’s not like anything you’d see here in the real world. With [castAR] you can have walls come straight up, out of a table so you and a friend can play Battleship, for example.”
While it’s still aways off, expect to hear more from castAR in the coming months as the company moves into holding plenty of demos around the US to show people what the set can do.