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Former Valve devs Kickstart new gaming headset

Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson have developed castAR, a new headset for 3D augmented-reality and virtual-reality gaming.

Technical Illusions

Earlier this year, a round of layoffs hit Valve. Included in the fallout were hardware developer Jeri Ellsworth and software developer Rick Johnson, and apparently, this is a match made in gaming heaven.

The pair, you see, had been developing a top-secret project that Valve allowed them to take with them -- an augmented-reality system that displays 3D images right before your eyes that they are calling castAR.

castAR consists of a pair of active-shutter glasses mounted with a pair of micro projectors and a retro-reflective surface, made out of the same kind of material you see used in high-visibility safety clothing and road markings, and embedded with infrared ID markers that allow it to track your head position and orientation.

Each projector casts a stereoscopic 3D image on to the surface, which then appears to the wearer as an object in the real world -- and thanks to the infrared markers, it stays in place as you move around.

"It began with one of those 'Eureka' moments," the team said. "Around May of 2012, Jeri was (as usual) working in Valve Software's hardware lab late at night. She was doing some experiments with a projector and saw an unexpected flash of light on the opposite side of the room. She observed that when the projector shone on to a particular surface, it produced an extremely bright flash as light reflected back.

"Investigating the cause of this reflection, she discovered it was a piece of retro-reflective material. Jeri quickly realised that this material could be used as a surface for projecting images on to. It was so efficient at bouncing light back you could use small micro projectors that emit tiny amounts of light and still see a very bright image."

The system, Ellsworth and Johnson (now calling themselves Technical Illusions) believe, could be used for a number of applications, including board gaming -- and a few peripherals greatly expand its potential.

A radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking grid that sits underneath the surface connects with RFID bases, which can be mounted to miniatures for tabletop gaming. A tool, called the Magic Wand, can be used as a joystick or 3D input device for video gaming. Finally, a clip-on accessory converts the glasses from augmented reality into full virtual reality. Technical Illusions is currently working on communication with mobile devices.

Several options are also being offered for developers: the software developers kit (of course); Unity integration so you can hit the ground running; demo games and other sample projects to help with the ideas process; possible additional engine support; and support for existing VR applications.

Ellsworth and Johnson have already made more than $340,000 of their $400,000 goal, with 30 days remaining on the Kickstarter campaign. A minimum pledge of $189 will be rewarded with the castAR glasses and surface, with tiers up to $10,000.

(Source: CNET Australia)