There’s been plenty of announcements and excitement over virtual reality (VR) during the past year, and with the impending arrival of several major platforms — Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, HTC/Valve Vive, and Samsung Gear VR — we will see some time next year how the consumer VR market begins to emerge. Yet there are drawbacks to VR, such as the complete immersion required, and the price of the hardware that may be in excess of $500 in some cases. Many analysts have speculated about the future size of the VR market, and while that may well be in the billions, many believe the market for Augmented Reality (AR) will be even greater, perhaps several times larger.

CastAR in use

The hardware competition for the AR market is already under way, though it is behind the VR market. Major players include Microsoft’s HoloLens (with development kits to be made available early next year for $3,000) and the still-mysterious Magic Leap, which has over $500 million in funding but has yet to talk much about what it’s planning. On a smaller scale, yet perhaps closer to market, is the hardware from CastAR, which recently landed $15 million in funding from Android creator Andy Rubin’s Playground Global investment firm.

Cast AR, formerly Technical Illusions, was founded by former Valve employees Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, who left to spin off the company after Valve decided not to pursue the technology. They’ve got some lightweight glasses that you use with a special reflective material that you can lay on a tabletop, and the result is magical — you can see an overlaid image generated by a computer. “Sometimes we try to use analogies like “remember Star Wars holographic chess ,” said Ellsworth.

The key to CastAR’s thinking is that they want the technology to be used broadly, not just for gaming but for design, engineering, and other fields. To their way of thinking, this means accessible hardware that’s not complex and has a low entry cost. “Among all the confusion about what separates AR from VR, what’s lost is fun,” said CEO David Henkel-Wallace. “People want a simple, accessible, fun solution that they can just pick up and play with their friends, without dealing with a bulky, uncomfortable headset, much less being tethered to a big computer. Our goal is to see CastAR on store shelves across North America, aligned with some recognizable brands in tabletop and interactive gaming. Playground’s support will help us get there.”

Ellsworth sees reaching a broad demographic as an important goal. “It’s hard to back up after you’ve catered to the hardcore people,” Ellsworth noted. “VR has done that, they have a perfect niche in really hardcore game players but we’re taking a different approach. We are going to hit the hardcore gamers. A hardcore gamer is going to go and play their intense VR thing but they’re also going to have fun playing Settlers Of Catan on CastAR. We’re going to get my father, we’re going to get people who are 40 years old, mothers, children that are eight years old crushing things with Tonka Trucks. I think we cover a broad spectrum.”

That broad market appeal is part of the reason that Rubin invested in the firm. “I was really intrigued by David, Jeri, and Rick’s approach to tackling the problem of how to drive mainstream adoption of AR,” said Rubin, the former Google executive and now managing director at Playground Global, in a statement.

Marketing AR is certainly one of the key issues ahead for CastAR. “I think it’s going to boil down to influencers out in the market are going to drive it,” said Ellsworth. “There’s going to be some early adopters and then they’re going to take it over to their friend’s house and their friend will be like ‘that was so fun, I’m going to go and get CastAR.'”

Of course, getting more people to pick up CastAR’s product is going to require some friendly pricing. The company isn’t saying yet what price point it’s looking to hit, but they definitely are aiming for consumers. “A $1,000 gaming PC to go with your lenses isn’t a consumer product,” Henkel-Wallace said. That may mean the emergence of several different versions of the hardware. “We don’t know if we’re going to be able to achieve something an eight year old can use but it’s on our radar,” said Ellsworth. “If we make it good for an eight year old does it make it so that someone who is eighty years old can’t use it It’s a balancing act. Somewhere farther down the road there could be customized versions, economy, kid versions that they can just break and destroy, and then the pro gamers that have to have the best.”