Kickstarter augmented reality headset ZapBox is like HoloLens on a $30 budget

Luke Dormehl
Digital Trends

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OK, so there are probably quite a few things 2016 is going to be remembered for when the history books are written — but one of them will be as the year when augmented reality hit the mainstream, thanks to the ultra-successful Pokémon Go.

If the idea of further experimenting with so-called mixed reality appeals to you, you may want to check out a new Kickstarter campaign called ZapBox.

ZapBox styles itself as an affordable way to experience mixed reality and room-scale virtual reality by using your smartphone. If the idea of shelling out for an expensive piece of kit like Microsoft’s HoloLens is not feasible, Zapbox gives you a Google Cardboard-style solution for, quite literally, a hundredth of the cost — with a price tag of $30.

The concept relies on you slotting your existing smartphone into a low-cost headset, before activating a ZapBox app which lets user dive into a “world of interactive content.”

More: Apple may introduce augmented reality functionality into the iPhone’s camera

The interesting part, however, is that ZapBox also comes with a pair of cardboard controllers and a set of “point codes” you can position around a room. It is on these point codes that the app then overlays virtual objects — which both lets ZapBox orient you in the room and also makes it possible to carry out some simplistic worldbuilding on your part.

“At launch, we’ve created several demos,” Caspar Thykier, Zappar CEO and co-founder, told Digital Trends. “There’s a xylophone you can play, a crazy golf course you can have a go at, a recreation of Mars you can explore, a painting app, and more. All of these, you can interact with using the two cardboard controllers.”

Don’t get us wrong, ZapBox is a rough-and-ready tool in some ways — but that is part of its charm. The apps it comes packaged with may be worth the price of admission for some users, but the real value comes from the fact that backers get access to Zappar’s SDK, ZapWorks, which lets them create their own augmented reality apps.

“This is great for the community of developers, who want to try and make their own experiences,” Thykier said. “This gives them the opportunity to quickly and easily prototype their ideas. People don’t need to publish their own apps, they can do it using a tool we’ve already created. It just takes away a bit of the complication, friction, and cost for anyone wanting to create something in mixed reality.”