Zapbox, the “cardboard of AR,” has morphed into a plastic headset that enables a 6DoF “pass-through” Augmented and Virtual Reality experiences using almost any smartphone, and it’s now available via Kickstarter. When the original Zapbox launched in 2016, the company glibly described their $40 paper viewer as “Magic Leap for super cheap.” Back in 2016 there was no AR Kit/Core plane detecting technology for smartphones, so they had to use paper markers to anchor their AR content to the physical world.
We’re not generally fans of Kickstarter campaigns, having repeatedly backed products that turn out to be nothing more than the sea monkeys advertised in the back of vintage comic books. In this case, we’re going to go out on a limb for Zappar, because the new Zapbox is a pass-through device. Your view of the physical world is directly through the smartphone camera, where it can mix in digital content more seamlessly. As a result, it can present both VR and AR content.
The new Zapbox head-mounted smartphone caddy is made of plastic, not cardboard. Live-hinged phone grips ensure your phone is held securely and centrally in place. It supports a wide range of different device sizes. The new 6 DoF controllers have a slimmer profile, and world tracking is now much more robust. A ZapBox for Unity plugin enables developers to build native iOS or Android apps with their own ZapBox content. Content can also be created with Zappar’s dedicated ZapWorks Studio tool and viewed instantly in the ZapBox app.
“On receipt, once you’ve got over the excitement of the incredible headset that lies before you at this insane price,” Zappar co-founder and CEO Caspar Thykier told me, “you can then download the free ZapBox app which includes eight demo experiences out of the box. With the Unity feature, any developer can also distribute their own apps that can support ZapBox if they so choose. You can also download existing VR apps onto your device like Within that offer cinematic virtual reality experiences.”
Connell Gauld and Dr. Simon Taylor were completing their engineering studies at the University of Cambridge when they met Caspar Thykier, an entrepreneurial ex-adman, and Kirk Ewing, a game industry veteran, and founded Zappar in April 2011. Zappar’s principal business is its AR creation tool, Zapworks, built for agencies, creatives, and businesses that helps users build web-based and native AR content. Their tools have helped to create l AR campaigns for partners like Nestle, 7-Eleven,Rovio/Angry Birds, PEZ, Universal and Warner Bros. Zappar closed a $3.75 M round of financing in 2017.
The company raised $90,000 (triple its goal) for the original ZapBox in 2016. “We wanted developers to be able to explore the possibilities of immersive 6-DoF MR and VR experiences, without the high cost of entry for dedicated hardware,” said Taylor. “The all-new ZapBox offers a great balance between affordability and capability that lets Unity and ZapWorks users create the impactful experiences they want.”
The new ZapBox has a Kickstarter funding goal of $65,000. Pledges range from $40 for a single unit, to $299 for a 10-pack.