Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, co-founders of the gaming startup Technical Illusions, had one month to reach their Kickstarter crowdfunding goal of $400,000. That would help them expand their new 3D glasses technology for gamers.
They blew through that goal in 53 hours.
As it turns out, a lot of people around the world like Technical Illusions’ concept for using augmented reality—called CastAR—to put gamers inside the games they play. A video assembled by Ellsworth and Johnson’s Woodinville-based company helped sell their idea for combining tiny projectors on the glasses with a special folding reflective material that can be draped on a table or hung up on a wall.
The result is a 3D effect that’s much easier on the eyes—no headaches or eye strain. A “magic wand” accessory also allows for gamer interaction with software-created figures. A prototype has already been shown at various gaming trade shows. The result when people put on the glasses?
“The first words out of their mouth are, ‘Oh my God,’ ‘Wow,’ ‘I can’t believe this,’ ‘I’ve been waiting for this for 30 years,’” said Ellsworth. “It’s the ‘Star Wars’ chess hologram scene that everybody’s been waiting for. You just see these graphics floating out on the table, you reach in with the magic wand, you can touch the characters, you can move them around.”
Ellsworth handles the hardware and chip design while Johnson works on software and programming. The two started developing CastAR while working at Valve Software, but were laid off earlier this year. The friends were able to continue their work, and now thanks to Kickstarter they will take the next year to prepare CastAR for manufacturing. They will take it to retailers at a projected price of $189 for consumers.
Johnson says Technical Illusions is working to make CastAR a mobile technology and is in discussions with top gaming engine developers. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Johnson says transitioning to startup mode has been simultaneously exhausting and encouraging.
“This is the first time where I’ve been on the forefront of creating the next generation of (gaming) technology,” Johnson said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It’s been such a learning experience.”
For Ellsworth, starting out with a Kickstarter project has reversed the product development process she’s worked on in the past. With a Kickstarter, “you have to get the prototypes to a very finished state to be able to show people what it’s going to be like, which is different from manufacturing other things where you can wait until the last minute to actually show the experience. We actually felt that was very important, to get out and show thousands of people the product before we launched our Kickstarter to show it’s real—these experiences we’re talking about are real.”