AR/VR solution purpose built for for engineering and design collaboration by Campfire
Former Qualcomm executive Jay Wright, who led development of the Vuforia augmented reality tool, has brought startup Campfire out of stealth — and unveiled a hardware and software stack aimed at enhancing rather than reinventing design and engineering work and collaboration using immersive technologies.
Campfire is actually a reinvention of sorts. It is the result of venture capital firm OTV’s (Olive Tree Ventures) acquisition of headset developer Meta Company’s intellectual property and technology in 2018.
OTV brought in Wright and opted to pursue a “different approach” to that of Meta Company, which developed the Meta 2 headset and a wide FOV (field of view) display system.
At the time of his appointment, Campfire co-founder Wright, who oversaw Vuforia during his time at Qualcomm and then after it was sold to PTC in 2015, promised to “build a new company, a new product”. With Campfire and his executive management team, which includes co-founder and chief operating officer Roy Ashok and founding adviser Avi-Bar Zeev, he focused their efforts on the collaboration use case, in product design and engineering, and has certainly delivered.
Campfire emerges from stealth today, after raising $8 million in seed capital from OTV, Kli Capital, Tuesday Capital and other investors, with a new augmented and virtual reality headset, plus a central console and a peripheral that turns a smartphone into a controller, as well as two software apps, all designed to remove difficulty, decrease discomfort and improve accessibility for enterprise and professional users.
The entire stack is designed to slot into existing workflows and extend current technologies, most notably PCs and mobile devices, rather than introduce an entirely new computing platform, like Magic Leap’s “spatial” attempt before it or as Microsoft is currently doing with HoloLens and its own brand of mixed reality. There will be no developer ecosystem. Campfire is offering everything a product designer or engineer will need.
Less immersive, more useful
Campfire says the new headset delivers “stunning” visual quality with a wide FOV in augmented reality, and a new level of comfort in virtual reality.
Although technical specifications are not yet available, Campfire says the headset tethers to a PC with a discrete GPU, Windows 10 2004, and a Thunderbolt-3 port with a USB-C connector, backing up the claim that it’s capable of delivering excellent visuals.
This powers the holographic view, which comes from a stereo image generated by two separate displays that reflect on the inner surface of the headset visor. The headset utilises optical see-through augmented reality, so content overlays the user’s view and sits in the real world, or they can go opaque for a truer virtual reality experience.
The extra comfort comes from the headset being designed to rest on the head rather than the face, making it more comfortable to wear (even with glasses). Peripheral vision is also maintained, enabling users to communicate with others around them, and even look at other devices.
All of this means that the Campfire Headset delivers a less immersive experience than its virtual reality competitors. The startup says this is intentional, because the collaboration use case in the design and engineering contexts has a greater need for environment-friendly visualisation than it does deep immersion, unlike training, for example.
Central to the collaborative experience is the Campfire Console, a device that acts like a 2D monitor and concentrates distributed colleagues and clients in one space for collaboration.
The current version sits on a large table, perhaps in a conference room, and unites users around the holographic content in a shared space for everyone to see, interact with and work on. The Campfire Console contains the tracking system, ensuring that all users are immediately focused and on the same page.
Each user donning the Campfire Headset uses the Campfire Pack to control their immersive experience. This attaches to the back of a smartphone and enables users to interact with holographic content in a number of ways, including a laser pointer.
Each and every hardware component demonstrates Campfire’s desire to extend rather than replace current technologies, ensuring that the startup’s target users, design and engineering professionals, don’t need to invest in, train on and work hard to embrace it.
On the software side, Campfire has developed Scenes, to enable the sharing of existing 3D models from a desktop PC for reviews and presentations, and Viewer, which integrates the whole platform with video conferencing solutions so that users can collaborate via the dedicated headset as well as smartphones, tablets and desktop devices.
This unified solution for collaboration within product design and engineering, extending existing technologies and platforms rather than replacing them, puts Campfire on a very different path to existing providers.
As Wright explains: “The vision for holographic collaboration has been talked about for decades, but not realised in products with any measure of success. By focusing on specific needs for design and engineering, we’ve reimagined the entire stack to deliver an experience that takes a giant step toward the vision — and more importantly enables a giant step in productivity.”