Former Valve Engineers Kickstart castAR Augmented Reality Hardware

Remember the hardware engineers that Valve bid adieu to earlier this year? One of them has a new home, a new product, and a very popular Kickstarter page.

Technical Illusions, a company started by two former Valve employees, launched their first Kickstarter product page earlier today. castAR promises to be “the most versatile AR & VR system,” around, coupling AR projector-equipped glasses with a flexible surface. The company is a partnership between Jeri Ellsworth, the high-profile engineer who was forced out of Valve earlier this year, and Rick Johnson, a veteran software engineer (Raven Software, Gearbox, Valve), who served as the lead programmer on Hexen 2 and Quake 4, among others.

The Ellsworth-Jackson duo is asking for $400,000 to fund Technical Illusions and the castAR system. Despite going live only earlier today, the project has already secured half of the requested bankroll.

Along with the announced hardware, Technical Illusions is promising Unity Engine support, demos to help developers realize what the hardware is capable of, and the possibility of other engine and VR hardware support. Based on how the funding is going, we might see stretch goals added soon. Unreal Engine 4 support? Oculus Rift support? A man can dream, right?

castAR sounds like a more powerful and exotic version of the Nintendo 3DS AR system. The castAR glasses and tracker system replaces the 3DS itself, and the surface replaces the palm-sized AR cards included in the 3DS box. Other optional components in the castAR system include a “magic wand,” complete with motion tracking and buttons, and small base sensors that can be attached to figurines or other small objects.

The Kickstarter bios for Jeri and Rick are below, but be sure to check out the Kickstarter page in its entirety.

Jeri Ellsworth

Jeri Ellsworth is an inventor, product designer, and engineer of both chip and system-level designs. Her broad skillset enables her to design reliable, low cost, and highly integrated systems, and has made her well-known in the industry for cutting-edge consumer products which sell in the millions.

She often holds the lead designer position on consumer products and has driven many projects from concept to mass production, including electrical and mechanical prototypes, cost reductions, certifications, tooling, tests, and overseas mass production.

Outside of engineering, Jeri has been a key member in several startups and has built businesses from the ground up. She is intimately familiar with day-to-day operations as well as how to build efficient engineering teams in new company environments.

Jeri has become an icon in the maker / educational community for pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible for an individual. She offers her time as a mentor and has produced hundreds of instructional videos demonstrating complex science subjects in an approachable way free of charge. She is a frequent lecturer at universities and speaks at many annual events about creativity and engineering. In 2012, she was presented the Maker Hero of the Year award by MAKE Magazine.

Rick Johnson

Rick Johnson started working on his first professional video game, Black Crypt, half way through college with 3 other people. Raven Software was formed during the game’s development. The game was published by Electronic Arts on the Commodore Amiga. After graduating college, Rick went to Raven full time, working on over 13 titles includingHeretic 2 and Star Wars Jedi Academy. He was the lead programmer on Hexen 2,Soldier of FortuneSoldier of Fortune 2, and Quake 4. After 17 years at Raven, Rick joined Gearbox Software to work on an unannounced prototype project and to assist withBrothers in Arms.

He then moved on to Valve Software. There, he improved editor tools, created the majority of the graphics technology in Dota 2, and was one of three primary founders of the Linux cabal. His contributions helped make Left 4 Dead 2 run on OpenGL in Linux just as fast as its Windows counterpart, helping bring Linux gaming into the modern age.

During his last 5 months at Valve, he spent most of his spare time outside of work helping create a prototyping environment for the AR project that Jeri Ellsworth was involved in. Together, they formed Technical Illusions and continued to iterate on and improve the hardware and software associated with castAR.

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