Super-interview with Jeri Ellsworth about her Tilt Five glasses, AR tech, and startups!

Today Tilt Five is launching its Kickstarter campaign for its innovative augmented reality glasses for tabletop gaming. For this occasion, I have recorded an incredible interview with Tilt Five CEO Jeri Ellsworth, where she doesn’t only talk about Tilt Five, but about a lot, really a lot of interesting stuff.

Jeri has been in the R&D of Valve Software when Abrash was still there, so she knows a lot about AR and VR. She’s super technical and I loved speaking with her. I can guarantee you that she is really valuable and the product is valuable as well, so I really advise you to give a look to the Kickstarter page of this product.

In the interview, we talked a lot about TiltFive, and you can get more technical details here from what you can get in most of other articles released today (in fact, this article is super-long)… but I asked her also some questions about the Kura glasses and the future of AR, and what she has learned from the previously failed startup experience at CastAR. Then, off the track we may also have been spoken about Half Life 3… but I can’t tell you anything 😀

Here you are the full video of the interview

And here you are the full transcript, for text lovers like me:

Hello Jeri! Tell my readers who you are and what’s your background! I know it’s not your first rodeo with augmented reality…) (0:36)

No no, I’ve been in the space for quite some time. So, I’ll give you my really quick life story here. I’ve been a lifelong builder and creator: I got into auto racing when I was a teenager… I built my own race cars

[wow!]

… after that, I’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur also. So, I opened a chain of retail computer stores in the 90s, I ran a fairly large chain in Oregon with five computer stores and then in 2000 I started working in Silicon Valley doing electronics and engineering… and eventually, I got into doing consumer products. So there were a couple products that I did that sold many millions of units and people seem to remember me from those. Some of my toy projects… I did a ton of these toys joysticks that you plug into a television and have a bunch of video games built in

[wow!] (I will skip lots of “wow”s from now on… I said too many wows during the interview that reporting them is too much!)

Yeah and then my background in virtual reality and augmented reality started when I was hired at Valve Software to run their R&D lab and so I put together the entire R&D lab for Valve Software and out of that a lot of really exciting technology was developed including arguably a lot of the technology in Oculus (Rift) and the HTC vive… was our team… we did that. That’s where I got started with augmented reality.

The Vive Wands. Part of all of this is merit of Jeri (Image by HTC)
One quick question… do you know something about Half Life VR? (2:12)

I don’t know anything about Half-life 3 or Half-life VR (laughs). Gabe Newell told me time and time again he’s like “I wish they would just build half-life 3. I would make billions of dollars. Let’s do it”. Valve software is a very funny place because they don’t have a formal management, so it’s kind of all self-organizing… and if they don’t feel like as a group doing half-life 3, or half-life VR, it just won’t happen. It’s an interesting place to work.

After Valve, I started an AR company called CastAR where we were doing augmented reality very similar to the technology we’ll be talking about today. But, you know, as Silicon Valley startups go… things don’t always end the way that you want. Here in Silicon Valley there’s a lot of pressure to go big fast and get acquired by Facebook, or some big company… and our investors tried to do that, and it didn’t work out. However the technology was so good that our core team purchased a bunch of the IP and technology and that’s what we used as a foundation for TiltFive… and so it has some of the DNA from CastAR, but also a lot of new technology.

So what is this is TiltFive AR headset? (3:52)

Well, my background in consumer products is: I love making products that are about fun, I love making products that bring people together to play, and that’s what we’ve done with TiltFive. So, we’ve taken the really difficult problem of augmented reality, and there’s a lot of companies working on augmented reality headsets right now, but one of the challenges is: if you try to make a headset that does everything for everyone, it falls short in every dimension, it ends up being not great for everyone, and it’s expensive… like our nearest competitor (that) is about twentyfive hundred dollars.  

At Tilt Five, we designed a really clever system that only works on tabletop experiences but it has features that are just leaps and bounds above what the big Magic Leap or HoloLens type AR systems are. Here’s a sneak peak of the glasses [she shows them in front of the camera]: they’re 85 grams, they’re super lightweight, they have folding arms, they have a 110 degrees field of view so they fill the entire table with graphics… a huge field of view and that’s because we’ve used this very clever optical system.

Tilt Five glasses controllers
Tilt Five glasses and controller, on the board (Image by Tilt Five)

Instead of trying to do expensive waveguides like HoloLens, we project out to this special game board and what that means is that we’ve solved two huge problems: the field of view,… well three (problems) actually… the second is: all these systems are fixed focus, almost all VR systems are fixed focus as well, so that means that when you get close to virtual objects, you have to force your eyes to focus at a different distance, and it can be stressful. The other thing that our system solves, as far as optics, is occlusion. All these other systems, if you put your hands in front of a virtual object, render graphics over-the-top and this messes up with the illusion. Our system does proper occlusion, so everything ends up in the correct place and your hands can move through the scene.

Some of the other features in our headset is: we have full telephony, so you can do telepresence with people: it has speakers and microphone, so you can talk to people. It has a dual camera system: one camera does inside-out tracking, so it just tracks your position around the table, so there’s no sensors that you have to put in the room; the other one is used for pure machine vision, we can do hand tracking, so you can reach into this virtual space and move stuff around. We can track wands… this [shows a device in front of the camera] is our six degrees of freedom wand that comes with it. We can track objects like miniatures, like little D&D figures, and things like that.

Is this (object tracking) already implemented? (7:07)

Yeah, I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the videos …yeah a lot of these features are already prototyped and we’re demonstrating them all. We just went to three big show’s here in the United States: Penny Arcade, Gen Con, and XOXO… we showed the system to thousands of people and what we showed at the event was: we showed tracking cards, so you would put playing cards and things would happen; little chips, you could put these physical chips down and fight enemies with these chips; and then, of course, we showed a lot of video game content. In the Kickstarter, you’re gonna see hand tracking and a bit more the advanced tracking being demonstrated. Well… it’s a lot… I’m sorry for that (laughs)

Using actual props in the game with Tilt Five (image by Tilt Five)
I thought that was only showing a elements on the table, instead you’ve implemented lots of features!

The way we like to think about it is that there’s a lot of things that you love about video games and there’s a lot of things that you love about board games. We want to marry those two together and there’s a lot of variability, so we can do pure video games, we can do pure board games with some additional graphics and stuff or anything in-between.

One of the things I’m personally excited about is: it’s hard to get my friends around the table and get them over to my house to play board games… so (with Tilt Five) we can take one game board and another game board in a different place and we can link those two game boards together so you have a shared holographic space. since we have the ability to track your hands, you could be doing a D&D match and you can do something like an eerie mist settle into the valley and you wave your hand over the game board, and eerie mist actually comes out of your hand, so all your friends that are in the room with you see this mist come out of your hands. But the people that are playing with you across the world also see a virtual representation of your hand and the eerie mist coming out of your hand. And you’re talking to them… or you take a playing card, you put a playing card down… you would see a virtual representation of that card go down and the game character would spring out of it and go attack something in the scene… or you could take a little toy dragon and put it down and track its position, and it could be breathing fire… yeah, it’s neat.

It goes back to these clever compromises that we made in the optical system… if you were to use some other system, and you try to put like a toy or a miniature on the table and have it breathe fire, your eyes wouldn’t be able to focus on the object and the fire at the same time, because they wouldn’t be at the same focal distance and it would cause confusion in the brain, while our system does that correctly.

We have some other stuff… since your audience is probably very technical and VR savvy… we’ve done a really really interesting thing in the headset. Let me compare it to virtual reality. In virtual reality, you have to do this reprojection, Oculus calls it timewarp, and that means that your video card and your computer has to be running at a really high frame rate to correct for your head motion and we’ve rolled that all into the headset. There’s a chip in the headset that’s taking the graphics from the computer or phone that you plug into, puts it in the headset and the headset upscales that to 180 frames per second and then inside the headset, there’s a tracking loop so there’s IMU, there are cameras running out a thousand Hertz…no, correction: cameras are not running at a thousand Hertz, the IMU is running over a thousand Hertz and the cameras are running a hundred plus Hertz… and then what happens is the image comes up, it could come up at 30 frames per second, which is very doable on any computer, and then it gets up scaled to 180 Hertz and then it’s positioned on the table correctly.

The animation may lag, but the tracking won’t (Image by Tilt Five)

One of my favorite demos to do for techie people when they come through the lab is: I put the headset on them, I show them a demo and they’re like “oh the tracking is fantastic” and they’re wiggling their heads around like they do on all AR devices. It’s like yep yep, it’s got six milliseconds latency. Then what I do is I turn Unity off, I can turn the game off and I let them sit there for a second, they’re like “this is great, it’s great” but by the way the game isn’t actually running right now… that’s just the last image that went up to the headset …and people’s minds that know this technology explode.

There are some other key benefits of this technology, and we didn’t have any of this at CastAR, so the last couple years we’ve been developing this technology and developing this form flat small form-factor. But the key advantage of several key advantages of this is that you can use pretty lightweight phones to have a pretty rich experience because phones can easily render 30 to 60 frames per second… and then we just upscale the frame rate to what we need. The other thing is you can plug into PCs, so that means you can run multiple headsets off of one PC.

So how many TiltFive glasses is possible to connect to a single PC? (13:20)

It comes to the frame rate: if you don’t mind 30 frames per second animation, and a lot of games just run at 30 frames, then you could probably have multiple… you know, I can’t say, it depends on your PC, how many you can actually run, but it’s just how comfortable you are with the animation. You don’t have a bad AR experience (in any case), yeah

Yeah, because the tracking is embedded on the device

Yeah, I’m super proud of this.. like, I worked at Valve Software… that was about eight years ago, one of the first things I was like “this is how it’s going to be done someday” and it took like seven or eight years before all the technology existed in the chips… and this is actually one of the circuit boards [shows it in front of the camera]… a fans on Twitter actually named it Archie.

Tilt Five Board
The board on which runs all the Tilt Five logic

This one chip… the entire headset runs off of one chip, that does all the projectors, does all the cameras, it does yeah it all. While we’re talking about cameras, sorry I love getting technical, the cameras are infrared. I’m proud of this too because I actually helped invent some of the technology in this too but they have filters on them and they filter out all the unwanted wavelengths and infrared light. Both cameras run on different infrared light: that means for the end-user that you can play in a completely dark room or you can play in a room that has tons of sunlight. Hololens and Magic Leap and some of these can’t work in sunlight and dark rooms, the Oculus Quest can’t work in a completely dark room and we do. We can because we actually emit infrared light and then the tangible, we call it  “tangible camera” internally, the machine vision camera that detects hands and objects and playing cards… since we control this infrared light, it’s like a strobe, we can freeze-frame motion, so if you’re moving something really rapidly in front of the camera, we can actually strobe it, capture it, do the machine vision on it free of motion blur, so we can actually extract more information out of the camera than if it was just a color RGB camera.

Has it some interferences with other IR devices like Kinect? (16:15)

The way our system works is through this retro reflective game board: the light that leaves the glasses comes directly back to the glasses and that includes infrared light as well and so for tracking we don’t have problems with crosstalk because we actually don’t emit much light out, infrared light out, to track the game board and then hands and things like that that are within arm’s reach. We don’t have to emit a lot of infrared light to capture your hands. Compare that to the HTC Vive that has like 40 giant infrared lights that strobe constantly to synchronize everything and spinning lasers with infrared light… and then the Kinect that has this huge laser illumination system, so those systems work totally different than ours.

kinect v1 htc vive vr
I made various experiments with Kinects and the Vive… and I can guarantee that the interferences where a lot!
Sorry but if I have a Vive in the room while I play with Tilt Five, what does happen?

No problem, no problem.

I have a funny story for you… I mean, maybe not so funny for some of your VR viewers, people that ran some of these companies that were around… so, one of our older systems had an infrared beacon back in the day and we went to this event and our infrared beacon was quite strong and happened to be very close to the same frequency that the HTC Vive operated in, it didn’t affect us because we had a slightly different way that we operated, but all the HTC Vives in the room were having tons and tons of problems. This was an event where they were trying to pitch their virtual reality experiences to raise money and so everyone in the room was like “Our tracking is really quirky and having problems and… are you guys having troubles?” “Oh, no”. We kind of knew it was us that was causing all the interferences (laughs).

Our system emits so little infrared light, it need so little infrared light, so it doesn’t matter.

I have read a very interesting article about how your optical system works: you project the visuals to the board that reflects the light back… can you explain it? (19:03)

This little guy here about the size of two sugar cubes [shows a little electronic thing to the camera], this is one of the projectors. It’s super tiny and so two of those projectors are up in the headset, they shine onto these lenses and this kind of slightly silvery lenses don’t look like much, but we actually have patents around this entire optical system because it’s super special…what we’re doing is we’re controlling polarization we’re doing all this stuff, these coatings on these lenses, so that when the light is emitted and it goes to the gameboard it hits this game board and this game board has a special retro reflective property that takes the light directly back to these two lenses, almost directly back, and then because we twist the polarization, we control the polarization, we get 85% efficiency in this optical path so that means these two projectors that project out are only putting out 0.65 lumens… put that in comparison to a home projector or Beamer, like a home projector, hundreds, like 600 lumens would be common… we’re .65 lumens. And because all that light goes out to the game board and this big cone of light goes out but it comes focused right back to the eyes and then our lenses are super-efficient, it’s actually too bright. A lot of times so we turn it down from .65 lumens.

We just went to a trade show that had huge mercury vapor lamps, like really bright stadium lights, and people were like “oh your system is not gonna look good” I’m like “just try it”… because all the light comes back to your eye, and just rejects everything else.

I’ve read it needs a special board to work (21:24)

Absolutely, it does need a special board. The board has this retro-reflective property and that comes with the kit.

Wherever that game board is, you get this virtual image and so if you’re looking at a square board on the table and you’re sitting at the table, it projects out to the board. That means that you can have infinite graphics going into the table, so your virtual objects can be in the table and then you can have graphics that come clear up to your face, anything above the horizon… but you can’t have graphics at the end of the table.

Now, as part of our Kickstarter pledge levels we have a deluxe kit that actually has a game board that has a kickstand on it, so the game board flap but you can kick it up and when you kick it up, then you have all this vertical space that you can work with, so you’re gonna have like 20 inches of a holographic stuff happening like way up here, in front of you

With the kickstand, you can have higher visuals! (Image by Tilt Five)
The board has a special material that reflects the light back… (22:37)

It’s called retro-reflection and it’s this silvery film: all the light that hits it, just comes directly back to each user and that means that you can have any number of users, you can have all your friends sitting around the table projecting their image. You can’t see what they’re seeing because all the light is going back to each user and that opens up a lot of gameplay opportunities… so fog of war… so, let me go back to a Dungeons & Dragons scenario.

The dungeon master sees the entire dungeon laid out on the table, he sees where all the monsters are, he sees where the traps are, while the players sitting around the table cannot see those traps until the moment that the dungeon master triggers the monster to spring up and then the fog of war is lifted and the monster springs up and everyone around the table gets to see it.

Here’s another example which is maybe more of an action war type game: you sit around the table with your friends and you can plan out your strategy, you can program up your your military men to go attack your friends and they can’t see what you’re doing so you can manipulate all this stuff with the wand and then when the fog of war lifts, they see your enemy running towards them.

A lot of people get very confused about our system (laughs)… you know, because of the game board they try to imagine what it’s like, and they’re like “well, you can’t possibly have any graphics above the game board” and that’s absolutely not true. On the flat game board you can have graphics standing really tall, especially when you’re a couple inches away from the far end of the game board… and then, if you want more height you just use the kickstand and get more height.

Why are you making glasses only for board games? And what are your projections for the future? (24:47)

That’s a great question. There’s a lot of companies out there trying to make these headsets that do everything for everyone and they all fall short in one way or another.

I love VR, it’s great, if I want to do something by myself… and I like dancing around waving my arms doing Beat Saber, that’s fun for 10 minutes or so. The gameplay I personally want to do is: I want to sit around the table and I want to have a comfortable game experience where I could play for hours and I can see my friends, I can see my beer when I want to pick it up and drink it, I want to see my hands when I reach into the space, not a virtual representation. VR is great but it’s super limited for social play.

magic leap con round up
If a family can afford spending the money for 4 Magic Leap Ones, they can play this board game together 😀 (Image by Road To VR)

AR systems like Magic Leap are fantastic: you can put graphics anywhere in the world… but it’s a teeny tiny image and the reason it’s a teeny tiny image is because they’re using these really expensive complicated waveguides that have severe limitations. Having worked at Valve Software on waveguides before, I know how much they cost and I wouldn’t be surprised if HoloLens and Magic Leap have perhaps $600 per eye just in glass optics… it’s expensive and it’s still super limited. It’s great, don’t get me wrong… I love all that stuff but what we can do is we have a 110° field of view and we fill the entire table with graphics. No one else can do that. You know, there’s some Chinese ones out that have like a 50 degree field of view… that’s not adequate to do anything within arm’s reach, because the image is way too small and it’s not in focus. So, complicated answer.

So your choice is making something that is very good for one purpose instead of making something that is okay for all purposes (27:17)

Yeah and our base kits are $299 and they get you everything that you need: you get the glasses, that are super high-tech, I mean, I think we’re doing better than a lot of the systems as far as dollar for dollar, we’re doing a lot more tracking things than other systems, and then you get the wand, so you get a six degrees of freedom wand, so your VR viewers totally understand those, I don’t have to explain those, and then you get the game board.

And then we provide a dozen games with it right out of the box and then we have a ton of partners we’ve been working with… and there are some really exciting announcements we’re going to be making during this Kickstarter campaign and so one of our most exciting announcements, it’s going to be on day one of the Kickstarter (today for the viewers), is a company called Fantasy Grounds, they have millions of users, it’s a platform that lets you do RPGs online so Dungeons and Dragons… officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons, they have like thousands of adventure packs, they have Pathfinder, just tons and tons of content… and they’re gonna support our system and so that’s gonna allow you to play Dungeons & Dragons and RPGs with your friends all over the world in a virtual space around the table or connected over the Internet. I don’t know the other games and stuff our third party developers are creating, we have a ton of like puzzle games and action video games… top down god-mode video games

I think you heard about the Kura glasses, the company that promised 150° FOV AR glasses. What is your opinion about it? Is something like this possible for consumers in the short term future? (29:30)
Kura Gallium
Concept image of the Kura Gallium (Image by Kura Technologies)

I know those guys, I kind of know the state of what things are… I think they’re… I shouldn’t comment on it… I’ll just comment about how difficult it is to make a wide field-of-view headset. I’ve made a lot of these at Valve, we did a ton of them. If you don’t mind sticking something that’s way huge, it’s way out here, that’s not practical to wear like a big giant reflector, you can make a wide field of view, but if you’re going to do a wide field of view thin lens…. it’s not gonna happen, you’re not gonna see it for five to ten years.

It’s so difficult. Facebook just came out and said that maybe in 2023, probably like 2024 you might see their first offering of smart glasses and they’re kicking…it’s tough… if you want to make a thin lens, something that you would actually wear for hours, it’s going to be limited and expensive, so yeah, I don’t have a lot of hopes for any company out there, nothing that’s gonna come close to what we’re doing on the tabletop.

It’s interesting. This means that in your opinion unless something breaks completely the rules, we will have really usable augmented reality for consumers maybe in six years… because I don’t think consumers will like the tiny window that there is now…

Here’s a prediction from me… so if we see Apple releasing something, for instance, I think they could probably make a small field of view information display that would be compelling. They would probably find the right use case that users would want it, but you wouldn’t do immersive gaming with it.

There are some technologies that are promising and I’ve been following them for eight-nine years and just waiting for them to mature and naturally we’ll adopt them as soon as they’re mature… there’s things like metamaterials. Metamaterials are very interesting, where you can take light and bend it at extreme angles, do very interesting things with it… but the downside with metamaterials is that it’s such a primitive technology right now. Its efficiency is like 0.01 efficient so if you beam light at this metamaterial you want it to bend lights, if you want to do 110 degree field of view like our glasses, you have to bend the light 110 degrees and send it back to the users eyes. Metamaterials potentially could do that, but you only get like 0.01 of the light coming, so it’s not usable.

You come from CastAR, that unluckily failed. What are the lessons that you learned in CastAR and how you are applying them in TiltFive? (33:47)

When you go through life, you make a lot of mistakes and I made a lot of mistakes with CastAR. One of the things that I did was: we had this vision of tabletop entertainment, and that was what we started the company on… very much what I’m talking about today… but being kind of young and naive in Silicon Valley startup world, you have to be very careful who you take money from.

What happened with us is: we did a Kickstarter, it was very successful, we shipped units, we shipped several hundred units out, we took this money from this investor and the investor came through and said like “Stop working on what you’re working on, now that we’ve given you money, we want you to do a totally different product and go after a totally different market” and I had not been smart about maintaining my CEO position in the company. I’d let it go and I’d given it to these executives, so they took us completely in a different direction. However, I’m super proud that when our investors and these executives that they brought in decided to take us in a totally different direction, I insisted that we give all the money back to the Kickstarter backers and we did that: we gave a hundred percent of the money back to the Kickstarter backers when our investors told us that we weren’t building that product anymore. That’s basically what happened.

Lesson learned: I shouldn’t have doubted myself… I doubted myself so I let a new CEO come in and run the company. I think I’m doing a fantastic job as a CEO in TiltFive, we have more excitement around Tilt Five than we ever did at Cast AR, because I’m running it my way. In the last year, of course I’ve talked to investors and I’ve had investors come in like “Sure, we’ll give you some money”… and we’ve taken some venture capital to get this far… and I’ve talked to some investors and they’re like “Well, we’ll give you money, but you can’t be CEO” and I’m like “okay, bye, we’re not taking your money”. I’ve learned I’m only taking money from investors that believe in my vision and believe that I can do it.

A very important lesson

CastAR was my first venture-backed company. For viewers that may not know what a “venture backed company” is: it’s like… you can do a traditional business, which I’ve done in the past, where you sell a product that people buy and then you make a little margin and then you just kind of grow it really slowly…. but in Silicon Valley you can go to these people that manage money and they give you big sums of money, millions of dollars, but they take partial control of your company. And if you give too much of that control away, pretty soon they’re running your company and that’s what happened.

I’m not gonna let that happen again. It’s an interesting drama… it was really sad for me too… I mean, it was heartbreaking watching the company being destroyed like that and there was nothing I could do, I had no power.

(Image by TiltFive)
Various people told me to beware of VCs… some of them just care about the money and don’t care about the vision of the founders

In our case what was interesting was that we took this money and we gave up about 30% of the company and that sounds like the rest of the people in the company have 70% of the company, so I should have been in control. Well, it turns out that as soon as you start to structure these deals and restructure your company, that number is pretty meaningless: you have a Board of Advisors, and a Board of Directors and you have executives come in… and it’s really who’s on your board of directors and who are your executives who’s in control… so the original founders, like Rick and I… we were no longer in control. There’s nothing you can do… all you can do is complain, and they just tell you to go sit in a corner… literally, the CEO said to me “go back to your desk and stop complaining to me. I just don’t want to hear it anymore from you”: he was just saying “go sit in the corner”. Unbelievable.

I don’t want to know what you answered him…

I shouldn’t say this… but when the company folded, I had some strong words.

On the good side is, not everything was lost: we were able to buy everything back and then we took it and we built these and what’s great about where we are today versus where we were back in CastAR is that when I started CastAR, we had nothing, basically it was just an idea… I had no production tooling, nothing. This is fully production tools… so we’re working with a big manufacturer in China to make these… this is actually injection molded right off the tools that we’re going to use to ship the product, the circuit board is production ready, the projector modules are production ready, everything is production ready this time around. Our timeline for Kickstarter is that by the end of Q2 next year all the units are going out, so everyone will have their units in the second quarter of 2020.

Tilt Five Manufacturing
Manufacturing the Tilt Five glasses (Image by Tilt Five)
Why the name Tilt Five? (41:36)

That’s gonna remain a mystery.

It’s an inside joke, and yeah, if you follow us on Twitter, you see that we kind of like to have a lot of fun and so when we started thinking about a name, we had all kinds of crazy names that had “AR” in them or virtual-this or you know Holo-that and we’re like “no,  we’re running the company the way we want to run it and we want to have fun, so let’s come up with a fun name that makes us laugh” and so that’s what it is.

For the name of the product, we went back and forth, how do we name the product and so we went round and around and we had a lot of really good names for the product, but in the end we decided that no, we want these to be the “Tilt Five glasses” and we want people to latch on to that name.  So, we’re gonna stick with it. It’s a little funny… on our Kickstarter rewards, we have two levels basically, we have the “LE”, the limited edition and the “XE”, the more premium deluxe edition and we suspect people will be saying “Well I got the Tilt Five LE” or “I got the Tilt Five XE”, so that’s kind ofhow I think people are going to talk about it the next few years.

As a developer, why should I develop for this? (43:31)

It’s a really really good question.

(Before) You asked how things are different now that I’m running Tilt Five… so, one of the things that we are really really focused on is that first of all, every kit has to come with games. Every one of the systems comes with games and so we made sure that we created games and we have games ready: a bunch of party games, and action games. Then we also had to make it really easy for developers, and so we put a lot of work into making it just dead simple to bring a game over. If you have a virtual reality game and it’s mostly top-down, it’s only zero work to get it on to our system… so a lot of content has come to us that way: when you look on our Kickstarter page, (you see) we have some announcements of official content coming to our system. Some of it is actually virtual reality software that actually plays better on our system.

What I’ve been doing personally is like the head of the company is going out and working with developers and so we have a lot of developers on board. Having developers, games and all this content on board means we’re gonna sell a lot more units and that means there’s more incentive for developers like yourself to participate.

Is it an Xbox? No, it’s not gonna be. We are not going to claim to developers that we’re going to have the scale of Xbox next year, there’s just no way. We’re looking for developers that are forward-leaning, that see that the games are going this direction, that want to invest in being ahead of the game and so that’s been our appeal and that’s how we’ve got a bunch of our content. It’s like there’s a lot of game developers that know this is coming and they’re willing to put a little investment in a couple years in advance in. Just give us like two or three years when we will have twenty million of these out… that will be really exciting.

Also, like I should point out… I’m gonna sling a little bit of mud, I probably shouldn’t,but I’m gonna do it anyway… Hololens came out three years ago, or something like that and they showed pictures of families playing video games and people doing medical procedures and stuff like that, and I was pounding my fist on the table going “No! No! No!”, there’s no way a home user is gonna buy this thing because of the cost, there’s just no way, so our cost advantage means that we stand the best chance out of everything that’s out there to ship millions of these to homes because you could have an entire family for not too much money have a complete holographic experience ,where you can sit around the table and have this magic.

You could buy a ton of our glasses for the price of one of those other systems… and I would argue Magic Leap hasn’t figured out where they belong in the world… Microsoft eventually figured out to stop advertising that you’re gonna play Minecraft on the thing and they focused on medical and focused on military and all these things, places that will spend $3,000.

Tilt Five specs
All the components of the Tilt Five Glasses (Image by tilt five)
How do you convince the more traditional tabletop gamers, the one that still user paper and pencil? (47:40)

This is a big unknown to us, it was a big risk for us. When we started Tilt Five, we were like “Which side of the spectrum do we go for: more video games or more board games?” We knew we could do either and we knew we could blend them all and we were like “Let’s go, let’s try to appeal to more of the board game crowd”, because we saw trends where there’s a lot of board gamers that are trying to use these online systems to play the games over distance and they’re frustrated with it and so I went out… and here’s a funny story… I went out to a local event where they were playing Warhammer… in Warhammer you take these miniature figures, you put them down and you have these elaborate stories, and you advance your miniatures, and you attack each other… and there are like these hit radiuses and use tape measures to figure out how far away the other players are and whether you can actually hit them… so, I go to this event and I walk in the door and I’m totally naïve, I’ve never played Warhammer before, and I’m like “Guys, I can eliminate all of your little miniatures, you won’t ever have to (buy them)… you know, graphics and sounds…” and they pretty much just gave me the middle finger (laughs)

Yeah that was stupid of me to go in and just say that I’m gonna replace everything that they think is fun about their game, which is using the physical objects so then I went back and talked to them a couple months later when they’re having another event. I’m like “Okay what if I could provide you a toolset”… so for instance there’s a war game that they play where they have tanks and they run them across Europe and when a tank gets damaged, they take a little piece of cotton that’s been stained red and they stick it on top of the tank to show that it’s on fire, all right that’s how they show fire and damage, they put little things on top of the miniatures, I’m like “What if I could just make where you drag and drop fire on top of that tank and it’s virtual fire and smokes coming off of it and it’s making a crackling sound” and then they were like [clapping her hands] “Yes we would do that” and so that was a very valuable lesson early on and so we spent a bunch of time talking to tabletop gamers and that’s why we focused so much on the ability to track your hands, track playing cards, track miniatures, so that we wouldn’t take the fun elements away from board games, we would just enhance them.

If you let me have some irony, that controller really looks like a gas lighter! (Image by Tilt Five)
I have read on Twitter some stories about people trying CastAR,like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Can you tell us some of them? (50:50)

You know, being in Silicon Valley you get exposed to a bunch of these folks. Bill Gates was interesting: when he tried the technology out… he came through a connection that we had… and so, he tries on the glasses and so… we’ve shown the glasses to thousands of people at these different trade shows, we’ve run thousands of people through and the most common thing that people say as soon as you slip the glasses on they go “oh wow”, that’s the first thing they do… and Bill Gates slips it on and he’s just deadpan silent, so we run him through some demos and there’s like some demos that are like exciting, like big things happen and no reaction (from him) and then so he takes it off and he’s like “hmm it was very very good” and then he goes into asking me super technical questions about the tracking, about the optics and the compute and the algorithms. I’m like oh wow you liked it, but just his personality was not like most people that would be like “Oh wow”… yes so, that was kind of cool.

I mean Wozniak has come through and saw it he’s actually tweeted about it saying how cool he thought it was… we had the people from the television shows Silicon Valley, so Thomas Middleditch that was in May, he randomly showed up in our office, because he heard about it and tried it out, he liked it a lot… but you know, celebrities are cool, but what I think is more interesting is that we went to the Penny Arcade show or Gen Con, we ran thousands of people through and we had on overwhelming response, like 99% of people are like “Holy crap, I need to buy it”. I’m not lying, if you go to our Kickstarter page, you find many of those people interviewed that describe what they thought of it

What is the price of the Tilt Five? And how can people buy it? (53:49)

If you go to our Kickstarter, we have basically three levels. At the time of filming this interview, we were still like working on like logistics so the price is going to wiggle on two of them, just a tiny bit while we figure that out like today, so $299 is our base kit and so what you get is you get the glasses, you get the wands you get the game board ,you get a dozen games or so, you get the SDK.. every one of the units is a devkit, so that’s the base kit… nothing fancy, it comes in a plain brown box, it has the square board the folds, so that’s that kit.

Then we have a more deluxe kit [at $359, $339 in early bird], which is only a little bit more and so comes with a nice carrying case with a handle that the board goes into, it comes with a more advanced game board which is modular so it can be clipped together and it can be rectangular, it can be square, it can be tipped up on one end, so you can have more graphics above the table.

And then, our third option is going to be a 3-pack of glasses [at $879, $859 in early bird]. You get three glasses, so you get everything in the deluxe kit so you get the deluxe game board that’s rectangular, and three wands, three glasses and that’s basically it.

That’s the basic levels… we’re trying to keep it really simple, we have some interesting stretch goals that are gonna unlock the ability to get different colors of different things.

Tilt Five also got a hands-on by TESTED!
Is there something else that you want to tell my viewers/readers? Even middle fingers to investors…(55:52)

Ahahah, I’m never gonna raise anymore money in Silicon Valley if I do that.

Well, I think that one of our biggest struggles… we just did a big news story yesterday, we brought one of reporters through and they were like “oh my god there’s so many things you can do”: you can do video games, you can do board games, you can do data visualization, you can put a card down and a character can spring out of it or you can have a card with some of the reflective material and there’s game characters running around on the card and you can do tiles that have the reflective material… that’s our biggest thing: the system is so flexible, your mind is going to run wild with the different things that you can do with it.

And especially when you start thinking about modifying the game board to have more reflective bits around, where you know more graphics and so I just encourage people to go look at kind of what we’re offering and just know that there’s a lot more there than what we can convey on a super-long Kickstarter page.

I mean, we’re trying to convey everything you do with it, but it’s impossible, it’s like trying to define everything you can do in VR multiplied by 5, because now you can start throwing physical objects and you can have your friends around the table and see them, so what are all the gameplays where you actually maybe don’t look at the game board, you’re looking at your friends, and things like that.

We’re excited that we’re so close to shipping and I worked on this for a long time, I put about five years of my life into this and so I hope people will consider backing us and we’re gonna have a lot of fun with this, everyone’s gonna have fun with this.

Thank you for your time! Goodbye

Thank you…


I’m really happy to have interviewed Jeri and I thank her for her time. I also wish good luck to her and her glasses Tilt Five!

If you need some specifications on the device, before heading to the Kickstarter page:

  • Dual 720p HD projectors, polarized for stereo display
  • 110° diagonal field of view
  • 180 Hz color field sequential image projection engine
  • Optimized for viewing distances from 10 cm (4 in.) to 2 m (6.5 ft.)
  • Dedicated hardware image stabilization operating per-color-field at 180 Hz
  • Dedicated 8MP application-accessible computer vision camera
  • USB 3.1 gen 2 connectivity (USB 3.0 required on the host system)
  • Supports applications running up to 60 fps
  • Stereo speakers
  • Microphone
  • 85 grams total weight of glasses
  • Bluetooth Low Energy for low latency connectivity

And here is the link to buy them. They have raised more than €200,000 in just six hours, that for sure means something…


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Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I've no idea what I'm doing. I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I'm not giving up: I've started an AR/VR agency called New Technology Walkers with which help you in realizing your XR dreams with our consultancies (Contact us if you need a project done!)