castar ar vr headset render castar wandIt’s the news no Kickstarter backer wants to hear, but every Kickstarter backer ought to be prepared for… delays. Some 62 ‘Early Dev Glasses’ of CastAR, the forthcoming AR/VR headset, were originally planned to be sent out in April and May to gather feedback for the final mass-produced units in September. Now into July, without the early units shipped out, the CastAR team say backers should expect delays.

It turns out that manufacturing is not only complex, but also quite a lengthy process. It’s a lesson that nearly every company (and backer)  involved in a VR-related Kickstarter has learned, including Oculus VR. Prior to the explosion of crowdfunding, lengthy production cycles were largely hidden from consumers, with many expecting a shipping product to follow a month or two after its initial announcement. The reality however is that there’s a tremendous amount of logistics involved in manufacturing such products. Even so, it’s a shame to know that one of the most exciting pieces of upcoming AR/VR tech has been pushed a bit further from our grasp.

In a new update from Technical Illusions on the CastAR Kickstarter page, the company stands behind one of their manufacturing partners who are working to make sure the final product is one of quality:

One of our manufacturing partners is just as meticulous as we are. They’ve remained incredibly focused on nailing all aspects of the projectors right out of the gate. Improving focus and clarity has been their highest priority, and we support them in their pursuit. Their attention to detail and commitment to quality is why we went with them in the first place; the flip side is that we’re experiencing delays. We apologize that we’re currently unable to name when exactly the Early Dev Glasses will be shipping. We’ll be able to elaborate on projected timelines once a critical component arrives and we’ve begun our internal testing.

The Early Dev Glasses were originally planned to go out in two batches in April and May. Here we are into July and the early units have yet to be shipped. The company wants to get the early units out to gather feedback before finalizing the design of the finished product. As such, with the final units originally planned to ship out in September, CastAR says that they will be delayed:

September and the intended shipment of the remaining Kickstarter units is fast approaching. Our intent was and still is to ship the early units, gather feedback, and improve upon design and functionality. As we’ve learned from the Early Dev Glasses, the cutting of tools, ordering materials, getting on factory production schedules and final assembly requires quite a bit of lead time. That process can’t be initiated for the final Kickstarter castAR Glasses until we’ve gathered feedback from the Early Dev Glasses. This all adds up to the final Kickstarter castAR Glasses shipping late as well. Apologies for our tardiness, we will continue to do our best on keeping you updated as new information comes in.

The company received pre-orders for some 3000 final units through their Kickstarter.

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress made on the CastAR AR/VR headset. The update notes that the unified cable has been completed, condensing a squid of cables into a single elegant and unified plug for the headset:

castar unified cable
An early prototype with four plugs to power and source both projectors (left). The newer prototype with a slim an all-in-one cable (right).

CastAR’s Derek Bonner elaborates on the cable’s design process in the CastAR forums.

Over the last week, a number of custom designed parts have reached the Technical Illusions team for testing and integration. A special helper has been ensuring that the parts are up to snuff:

castar toby cast prototype
Toby the cat is listed as a co-founder of Technical Illusions, currently holding the role of Senior Cat.

At the end of the update, the CastAR team tease that, “Next week you’ll hear about the benefits of our new two camera tracking solution.” It’s unclear at this point if the two camera solution means two cameras mounted on the CastAR headset itself, or if CastAR will include an “outside-in” tracking camera, to augment the camera on the headset, like that which the Oculus Rift DK2 uses. Looks like we’ll find out next week.


castar vr clipons

CastAR is a unique augmented reality headset that works primarily thanks to two head-mounted projectors which beam light out to a retro-reflective surface which becomes the viewable area. Technical Illusions, a company formed by ex-Valve employees Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, ran a hugely successful CastAR Kickstarter which surpassed its $400,000 goal to reach $1.05 million at the end of 2013.

Ellsworth and Johnson were working on the CastAR project while employed with Valve. The duo were laid off, but Valve allowed them to take control of the intellectual property and continue developing the project independently.

The device is expect to have dual 1280×720 projectors, with a 120 hertz refresh rate, which enable a stereoscopic 3D image with a 65 degree horizontal field of view. To be used in the projected mode, the user needs a retro-reflective material in their environment to reflect the projected light back into their eyes. The starter kit comes with a 1×1 meter sheet of retro-reflective material, which is flexible and can be rolled up for easy storage, but Technical Illusions says you could cover an entire room to expand your view into the augmented reality world.

The company called CastAR “the most versatile AR & VR system” in their Kickstarter. Technical Illusions will offer a VR clip-on which turns the augmented reality device into a VR headset. The company says that the headset will achieve a 90 degree horizontal field of view with the clip-ons. A detachable cover will enabled transparent HMD functionality for augmented reality use which works differently than the projected functionality by reflecting the light from the projectors directly into the eye, rather than first beaming it out to a retroreflective surface. The VR clip-on is available for pre-order for $85.

Technical Illusions is currently offering pre-orders for the CastAR starter package on their website for $345.

We had a chance to try an early CastAR prototype back at CES in January and a newer prototype at Maker Faire in May.

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