In stealth until now, Campfire has created a holographic collaboration system for professional 3D designers. The hardware and software headset system is based on patents and technology formerly created by Meta, which ran out of money in 2018.
It will come out as a subscription in the fall of this year, after years of research and development. The company has fewer than 15 people and said the funding came from OTV, Kli Capital, Tuesday Capital, and others.
“This was designed for a very specific purpose, for designers and engineers who need to share with other stakeholders inside their company and others,” Campfire CEO Jay Wright told VentureBeat in an interview. “So I’m designing something that I need to show to my colleagues. Paramount for them is the visual experience.”
Campfire combines proprietary devices and applications built on a foundation of more than 60 patents. It’s based on the lessons of the past few years of headsets, including the failure of Meta.
“The problem with today’s devices is that the experience is not good,” Wright said. “The experience suffers from big problems. They have a small field of view and poor image quality. The devices press on our face, cause pain, get warm, and make us uncomfortable. The users also have to learn new interfaces and tools. And integrating with your regular workflow has been really poor.”
Three hardware devices and two applications
With Campfire, Wright said the team had a chance to redo hardware and software and rethink it all. The team focused on creating a full system with good visual performance, ease of use, and an integrated workflow. The Campfire headset delivers a real AR experience with a 92-degree diagonal field of view, Wright said. He added that it doesn’t touch your face and it’s comfortable.
The Campfire system is being used by industrial design firm Frog Design. Frog is a Campfire development partner, along with a select group of companies. The Campfire system, which consists of three devices and two applications, is available for preview through Campfire’s Pioneer Program.
The Campfire headset can provide VR and AR with one device. Designers can visualize physical products with a natural view of the real world or an environment of their choice using a single headset. You wear the headset on your head, but it doesn’t completely obstruct your view.
“You retain your peripheral vision. And by retaining your peripheral vision, you feel a lot more comfortable walking around your desk or table,” Wright said. “It goes a long way for people who get VR sickness because they can still maintain the horizon and see what’s around them.”
The Campfire Console is a new device that acts like a holographic projector. And the Campfire Pack transforms a mobile phone into an intuitive controller with tools for working with 3D models. It attaches to the back of the phone and eliminates the learning curve of proprietary controllers and gesture interfaces.
“The vision for holographic collaboration has been talked about for decades but not realized in products with any measure of success,” Wright said. “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.”
Meanwhile, Campfire Scenes enables users to create scenes from existing 3D models for quick reviews or elaborate presentations.
“Campfire Scenes is the tool that solves the workflow gap,” Wright said. “It gets your existing 3D files in a way that can be shared easily.”
And the Campfire Viewer enables users to work alone or together during video calls, using a Campfire Headset, tablet, or phone.
“The Campfire Viewer is what you use to open the Campfire documents,” Wright said. “You plug the headset into the laptop and you’re in.”
Frog Design’s teams have used the device to work together virtually while spread out, Frog venture design lead Graeme Waitzkin said in a statement.
“I wanted to make sure we had people on board that were part of the process and were the top of their game for design,” Wright said. “Frog Design was at the top of that list.”
Waitzkin said his teams jumped at the chance to test the system as a development partner.
“It doesn’t stop with devices,” Wright said. “The Campfire Scenes are like a mashup of Google Docs and Powerpoint. It allows you to take more than 40 different CAD and 3D formats and organize them into a series of three-dimensional scenes that can then be shared with Campfire users. And they can open up, and you can view them with the headset.”
You could compose something using a normal computer and then be able to see what it looks like through a live preview.
Restarting from Meta
Besides Wright, the team includes chief operating officer Roy Ashok and founding adviser Avi Bar-Zeev. Campfire was started as Meta View in December 2018 by venture capital firm OTV to purchase and commercialize IP developed by the Meta Company, including an AR visor design and a patent portfolio.
“Two years ago, I took on a new mission with Campfire, and I couldn’t be more excited to tell you about today,” Wright said. “We really got some rock stars that have been behind the scenes for the last couple of years building this. And the space we’re in is holographic collaboration. It’s been called spatial collaboration. You hear it talked about. It’s the promise we’ve seen in science fiction, the promise we’ve also seen for a lot of companies in the AR/VR space. They have presented compelling visuals but haven’t delivered on them.”
OTV recruited Wright, a former Qualcomm executive and president of Vuforia at PTC, as CEO in May 2019 to execute his vision for an integrated hardware and software solution designed from the ground up for collaboration.
Campfire’s goal is to bring existing 3D workflows into 3D space for knowledge workers, not to replace the phone or computer, but to extend them.
“This is about knowledge workers, specifically people that are working with 3D to build things today, like CAD and similar tools,” Wright said. “So it’s not about full immersion that we need for gaming. And it’s not about full immersion for making somebody feel like they’ve got an emergency situation in a cockpit for training. It’s about visualizing products, and doing it in the easiest and most flexible way.”
Campfire utilizes a unique headset to provide holographic views of 3D models and data in AR and VR. The holographic views result from a stereo image generated by two separate displays (left and right) that reflect on the inner surface of the headset visor. The displays are driven by a discrete graphics processing unit (GPU) on a PC connected with a USB-C cable.
This is a different operating principle than employed by holographic projectors/displays that seek to generate holograms that are visible with the naked eye. Campfire works with more than CAD/3D file formats directly from a desktop PC.
The hardware connects to a PC with a discrete GPU, Windows 10, and a Thunderbolt-3 port with a USB-C connector. The Campfire Pack requires a recent iOS or Android phone.
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