According to a report from Polygon, augmented reality company CastAR is heading for a shutdown, laying off staff from the Palo Alto headquarters and its internal AR software development studio in Salt Lake City. CastAR’s consumer hardware was due to launch this year.

Concept render of the CastAR headset and controller | Image courtesy CastAR

When Valve shelved an internal AR project in 2013, former employees Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson were allowed to take their research with them and spun out the company Technical Illusions— eventually renamed CastAR—initially running a successful Kickstarter campaign which raised over $1 million, followed by landing a $15 million Series A investment from VC Playground Global in 2015. Polygon reports that according to former employees, the venture firm declined to invest any more in the company last week, and that CastAR had “failed to land any Series B funding from other potential investors.”

Following the initial article revealing CastAR’s woes, Polygon has since updated their report to clarify that a “core group of employees are working to try and sell the existing technology.”

This unfortunate news comes during a wealth of positive developments in the field of AR technology. The recent screen-based AR solutions (such as Google Tango and Apple’s phone and tablet AR) and a number of AR headsets.

A prototype development kit of the CastAR headset, circa 2015 | Photo by Road to VR

CastAR’s tech was initially based on the novel use of dual projectors, which required a retro-reflective mat on which the images appear.

CastAR’s VR clip-on concept art | Image courtesy CastAR

Despite its advantages (particularly the ease of supporting multiple viewers), the approach required a number of tradeoffs, including portability (as you’d need to take one of the display mats with you in order to use the headset at another location—and seemed best suited for more niche tabletop gaming-like functionality (as the company has demonstrated on several occasions). The company had long claimed that an optical add-on would allow the device to double as a VR headset, though we never did get a chance to see the functionality demonstrated.

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The trial version of Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness probably had something to do with it. And certainly the original Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo. A car nut from an early age, Dominic was always drawn to racing games above all other genres. Now a seasoned driving simulation enthusiast, and former editor of Sim Racer magazine, Dominic has followed virtual reality developments with keen interest, as cockpit-based simulation is a perfect match for the technology. Conditions could hardly be more ideal, a scientist once said. Writing about simulators lead him to Road to VR, whose broad coverage of the industry revealed the bigger picture and limitless potential of the medium. Passionate about technology and a lifelong PC gamer, Dominic suffers from the ‘tweak for days’ PC gaming condition, where he plays the same section over and over at every possible combination of visual settings to find the right balance between fidelity and performance. Based within The Fens of Lincolnshire (it’s very flat), Dominic can sometimes be found marvelling at the real world’s ‘draw distance’, wishing virtual technologies would catch up.
  • Mei Ling

    Initially castAR was quite an interesting idea before the whole AR and VR scene properly developed but as time went on their project became a lost cause as major corporations stepped in with much superior and actually useful tech. As I’ve said before the idea was never going to work because despite being a unique path toward interactive experiences, primarily tabletop “gaming”, it simply had no other real purpose. Not surprising to see a failed idea from the remnants of useless technology from a team of rejects although such a shame for those who actually signed up to work for this..

    • I can’t agree more. At this point VR needs to become more widespread and settled with better headsets and cheaper headsets before we can move on to another widespread device be it AR or VR. The problem with many of these technologies is always the same until one of them doesn’t settle well enough there will simply not be enough developers to satisfy the needs of a large consumer base.

    • Actually, the Castar can be trimmed down and used just as a Tabletop AR device at a very competitive price point.
      Also, the people of Castar are pioneers in thier Technology fields. Do your research!

      • Darshan

        True here wish they sell out their technology to some organization with strong R&D capabilities and some day we could see table top AR device.

  • psuedonymous

    Their main problem was they didn’t make a good case for consumer use of a Head Mounted Projector, and existing HMPs have already filled the industrial niches so they had no high-margin market to sustain them. There’s not much point selling ‘existing device but more basic and cheaper’ if there is no market for a cheaper version in the first place.

  • Strawb77

    what happens about the kickstarters` money?

    • Darshan

      Kickstarters money long back returned to them when jeri and rick got their first Series A investment. They are honest people and i am sad this product did not worked out…

      • Strawb77

        i wasn`t suggesting they were anything other- yeah, great shame tho`.

  • Good product, however the Business Hololens $3000.00 and upcoming Consumer Hololens $300.00 AR, MR, Technology utilizes spatial mapping of your environment whereby you can place/anchor virtual objects in 3D space without additional accessories. Then, said mapped environment with anchored virtual objects can be saved for later use and modification. Then there is SkypeVR, AR, MR on the horizon set to release with the consumer based Hololens which has higher resolution and larger FOV. Microsoft is dominating this field because of the Kinect technology in Hololens.

  • Mateusz

    It’s very sad to see CastAr shut down :( Jeri and Rick seem like such positive and upbeat people you just can’t help but root for them :) I was hoping they would find their niche maybe in tabletop AR or something similar. I hope they’re not giving up and are still full of great ideas.