All-new ZapBox: 6-DoF Mixed Reality for $40 (USD)

Created by Zappar

A radical new approach to 6-DoF MR and VR powered by your smartphone. Includes two fully-tracked controllers and a Unity plugin. Now including upgraded “active” controllers!

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Mass production has started!
about 1 month ago – Thu, May 26, 2022 at 02:26:50 AM

Hi Zapboxers!

The day has finally arrived - the production of the first full batch of Zapbox units is now underway! 

We received the set of 10 sample units from the factory and after carefully reviewing them, we were happy to approve them for mass production. This is a major milestone and we’re very excited to be sharing this news with you. 

The next few weeks will see our manufacturing partner produce the initial run of Zapbox units, with an external Quality Assurance company making a few visits to ensure consistency with the samples we have approved.

Injection moulding for the plastic components is already underway and will be complete in early June. After that, the assembly of the units will take another couple of weeks. So we are currently expecting the final units to be ready for collection from the factory in mid-June.

We’ll then ship the Zapboxes in bulk to fulfillment partners in the UK, US and EU. Shipping and receiving the units into the local warehouses is likely to take 6 weeks or so. It’s possible they may start arriving with some backers in late July, but we expect most backers will see their Zapbox arrive in August.

This is a good opportunity to remind you to ensure that your BackerKit survey has been completed and all your shipping information is correct and up to date, to make sure your Zapbox gets to you as quickly as possible.

If you can’t find your BackerKit survey link, you can visit this page to request it again using the email address associated with your Kickstarter account. Feel free to reach out if you need any help.

Once again thank you for all your support and patience, we can’t wait to get your Zapboxes into your hands! 

Thank you for your response!

We would like to thank you for responding to our survey on the last update. We had over 80 responses and generated tons of valuable feedback. There were some really interesting trends that gave us much to think about, including:

  • 58% of you are looking to use Zapbox for learning, development and education
  • Around 50% of you are looking to build or tinker with XR experiences
  • 75% of you would be interested in a 3D Collaboration tool
  • 55% of you plan to use Zapbox in a multi-user setting

We really loved hearing about the unique things you are planning for Zapbox, whether it was an open-source flight simulator, FPV drone viewing, VR jewellery, and more. There were a good number of backers who were interested in using mixed reality to train and educate their students, which was great to see and something we want to support more.

When asked what made you excited for Zapbox the most, one response in particular we think helped encompass our ambition to democratise mixed reality:

Bringing new experiences to people most often left behind by technology

That’s something we’re striving for on team Zapbox - and with the first mass production run officially underway, we’re one step closer to making that happen!

AWEsome

We will be at the Augmented World Expo next week, showing off all the latest product updates in the Zappar ecosystem including ZapWorks and Zapbox. If you’re around, be sure to stop by the Zappar-sponsored bar and have a “Zapparol Spritz” on us - we’ll have the latest sample units with us so you’ll be able to have a sneak peek at the final product. If you’re not visiting AWE this year, then be sure to follow Zappar on social media as we post updates throughout the event.


Until next time Zapboxers!


- Team Zappar

We want to hear from you!
2 months ago – Sat, Apr 23, 2022 at 02:03:58 AM

Hey there Zapboxers - we have a quick update this week as we move closer and closer towards bringing you the most affordable 6-DoF mixed reality headset on the market.


Manufacturing Updates


We mentioned in the previous update that we had a few final amends arising from the latest set of samples. Just before the Easter weekend we received the news (and videos) that these outstanding issues have now all been resolved.

After careful consideration of the videos we have decided to do another limited run of 10 units to be produced and sampled before moving towards mass production. These units will allow us to have some in hand for testing, prototyping and demonstrations for upcoming conferences (like AWE - the Augmented World Expo). We will also use some of these sample units as the reference samples for our external QA partner when mass production kicks off. We should receive these units within the next two weeks, and we will share an update with you once we have them here.

Simon and his team are also working hard on the software side of things, aiming to get some demonstration content up and running with the new kit in time for AWE at the start of June.


We want to hear from you!


Our mission at Zappar is to help democratise XR for the masses, and Zapbox is a huge part of this equation. By offering an incredible 6-DoF mixed reality headset at an affordable price, we are able to give more and more people exposure to incredible mixed reality experiences - whether they are grizzled XR enthusiasts, experienced hobbyists, or just getting started on their journey to the Metaverse.

To help guide our future plans, we wanted to share a survey to get your direct feedback on how you plan to use Zapbox, what type of content you are looking for, and how we can improve Zapbox down the road post-launch.

You can fill out the survey here: https://forms.gle/kjc6759xKRAZwb7P8


We’re excited to hear from you and eager to see your responses!


That’s all for now, thanks again for supporting Zapbox!

Updated samples are here!
3 months ago – Tue, Apr 05, 2022 at 01:38:45 AM

Hi Zapboxers!

Just a quick one this time to share the latest news on the manufacturing process for the physical products.

Our manufacturing partners were able to get back into their manufacturing facilities and ship out the latest round of samples to Steven. He brought them into Zappar HQ on Thursday last week, where we had a great deep-dive into all the components.

We were really excited to get hands-on with these samples, as you can see in the video below. Well, the humans were excited at least, Connell’s dog Chief was more interested in our collection of Angry Birds plush toys…

Overall we’re really happy with the improvements made since the previous samples - in particular, the D3 marker prints on the controllers are now looking fantastic.

There are still a couple of points that need to be addressed before we can start the mass production run - the bottom battery connector in the controllers can sometimes become misaligned, and the lenses are not quite locking into place properly on the glasses element.

These remaining issues can be addressed with some minor adjustments to the tools, which we anticipate will take a week or so to complete and validate. We’re planning to review the changes via video first, and might not require another round of physical samples before approving mass production, but we’ll wait and see on the videos before making that decision.

There are also a few minor packaging print tweaks going on in parallel, which shouldn't cause any extra delays. As always, we’ll keep you in the loop with our progress.

Until next time, when we're hoping to finally sound the “mass production started” klaxon...


- Team Zappar

March Update
4 months ago – Wed, Mar 16, 2022 at 09:39:21 PM

Hi Zapboxers!

It´s been a while since our last update, so let's dive right in and bring you up to speed with all things Zapbox.

Manufacturing Updates

We received another round of samples in February, which included the printed items and an updated material and finish for the world anchors. We’re happy with the look, feel and function of all of these components now (although note the printing on the brown cardboard items will be in white for the final production run, the samples below with the faint black print are for layout testing only). 

We had hoped to receive final samples for all the components in February so we could get mass production underway, but we are unfortunately still waiting on a few parts. The aspect that proved the most challenging to resolve was the print quality for the D3 markers on the “hex” ends of the controllers, along with a few other elements.

The good news is that our manufacturing partners have now sent across photos and videos of all of the items that required amends and all the outstanding issues look to have been resolved. The hex print video below shows great quality, and our manufacturers are confident this process will give a consistently accurate print for the mass production run. 

Last week we were really hopeful of all those final physical samples being sent to us this week via express mail. In another stroke of bad luck though, it seems Covid isn’t yet done with disrupting things…

We heard on Monday from our manufacturing partners that the local authorities in Shenzhen have imposed a partial lockdown due to rising Covid cases, so they are doing what they can from home but without access to the factory. The lockdown is also reportedly impacting Apple supplier Foxconn, among many other large companies.

Right now the expectation is this will be a short-term lockdown and they will be able to get back into the factory next week, but as with everything Covid it’s a bit unpredictable. We’re sending our best wishes in their direction and hoping they are able to get back up and running soon. We’ll keep you updated with news as we get it.

Software Updates

Whilst some of the challenges in the physical production are out of our hands, we have been able to focus more on the software aspects where we have more control.

Hand Tracking

You may remember back in October we welcomed Tao to the Zappar computer vision team, and mentioned his initial focus would be on hand tracking and specifically how this could be applied for Zapbox.

Tao’s done lots of great work around understanding the existing approaches to this problem, primarily looking at Google’s open-source MediaPipe Hands implementation. The approach consists of a first “detection” AI model to identify the location of hands in the image, and then a “landmark” model applied to a crop of any detected hands to determine the location of 21 specific points on the hand.

Tao has created training pipelines for both of those models, which will allow us to retrain them with our own datasets and to adjust the model structure to find an appropriate balance between quality and performance.

More recently he has been looking at using the MediaPipe AI models directly, as they have been trained on a large dataset and already provide a good balance of performance and accuracy. However we wanted to use these models outside of the MediaPipe framework to allow integrating them more tightly and efficiently into the Zapbox runtime.

Another reason for extracting the models was to convert them to Apple’s CoreML format, which allows models to run on the “Apple Neural Engine” inside recent iPhones. This means the AI models can run without using significant CPU or GPU resources - which are both in high demand for running XR content. Here’s a video showing the current results of the approach:

We’ve verified that both models run almost entirely on the Neural Engine on recent iPhones (this example shows an iPhone 12 Mini), and they are fast enough to deliver 60 fps tracking. There is still scope for further optimisation which Tao is continuing to explore, but this is a great place to start.

Whilst some Android devices include dedicated hardware blocks for running AI models, the support is not as widespread and there’s more variety in the features and model types supported by the hardware. So although we will look to use capable hardware where it is available, it is more likely that greater CPU and GPU resources will be required for hand tracking on Android devices.

As we mentioned back in October we’re still expecting the controllers to be the primary input method for Zapbox, but Tao’s work definitely brings us closer to being able to offer an opt-in hand tracking option too.

Tilt Brush for Zapbox

Our Unity expert Shubham has started work on the Tilt Brush port for Zapbox. Initially he’s brought the project forward to Unity 2020 and has moved the XR support over from the headset-specific SDKs to the Unity XR abstraction layer. He’s been successfully testing this from his PC to a tethered Oculus Quest and is now moving on to getting the standalone Android Quest build working with the Unity XR framework.

The Tilt Brush port will be a really useful test case as we build our Unity XR provider plugin for Zapbox. Shubham is also reading up and experimenting with the XR provider plugin API so that he will be able to launch straight into that when the underlying runtime is ready to integrate.

Zapbox Runtime and WebXR Investigations

We’ve also been making progress on the first version of the Zapbox runtime. This is the “core” of the code that will make Zapbox work - managing the Bluetooth LE connections to the controllers, tracking user and controller motion, forward-predicting motion to determine the views that the 3D engine should render, and late-warping the rendered content and compositing the camera frames at the latest possible moment to minimise latency.

This core runtime will be exposed via the Unity XR provider plugin, and we are also planning an integration with the NVIDIA CloudXR SDK so that Zapbox can be used to experience XR content streamed from a PC.

On top of this we have recently taken a deep dive into the current state of WebXR - an emerging web standard for exposing headsets and handheld AR in browsers. Simon recently joined the “Immersive Web Community Group” at the W3C (the organisation that manages web standards) and has sent a couple of introductory emails to their public mailing list.

After the deep dive we have a much greater understanding of WebXR, and a few improvement suggestions for the handheld AR use cases. We’re pleased to report that the WebXR APIs relating to headsets look mature and stable, and map well to the initial set of functionality we’re working on for the Zapbox runtime.

Therefore we’re now actively planning to implement a WebXR browser app for Zapbox. iOS apps are required to use the built-in WebKit framework for browser functionality which complicates things, but we are relatively confident we have a route to implement a WebXR layer on top of this that will be able to hook into our low-latency Zapbox runtime work. If we are able to pull this off, a WebXR browser will bring support for another existing content ecosystem to Zapbox alongside the streaming client for PC content.

WebXR is also great for developers as it removes the need to submit separate native Zapbox-specific apps to the stores on both iOS and Android. Additionally developers will benefit from more cross-platform support as browsers are already available on most existing headsets. Most web-specific 3D engines already have WebXR integrations, and there’s also an existing plugin for Unity.

We still intend to deliver native app SDKs which will offer the best performance and enable native ports of existing content such as Tilt Brush. However with the advantages in cross-platform support and ease of publishing, WebXR may well become the primary way content for Zapbox will be developed and delivered.

We’re hoping to have some sort of early WebXR browser implementation ready to share with the Developer Bundle backers in the next couple of months - as ever we’ll keep you up to date with our progress.

Wrapping up

Phew, that was a long one… we won’t leave such a long gap before the next update, so it should be a little shorter too.

Whilst it’s disappointing that the physical product manufacturing isn’t quite at the stage we wanted, we’re still excited by the progress being made on all fronts.

As ever, thanks for all the support so far. We are inching closer to that finish line!


- Team Zappar

January Update - Our first mass-production sample has arrived!
6 months ago – Tue, Jan 18, 2022 at 02:53:28 PM

Happy New Year Zapboxers!

We hope you had a great break and are refreshed and ready to get this new year started. After leaping a few Covid hurdles, the Zapbox team has been busy at work hitting the ground running and making 2022 an exciting year for Zapbox, XR and the Metaverse (Zapparverse?).

First mass-production Zapbox sample hot out of the oven!

As mentioned in previous updates, we’ve been working with our partners in China to manufacture the first batch of Zapboxes and get these in your hands as soon as possible. We’ve not been immune to the global challenges around logistics delays, Covid lockdowns, and increasing supply chain difficulties, but we are making headway into getting the first units ready off the factory line.

To that end, we hit a major milestone last Tuesday when we received the first sample Zapbox assembled by the factory with all the components produced with the mass-production injection moulding process from our custom moulds. Take a look at the video unboxing below where Steven (Head of Zapbox Product Design) shows you all the constituent parts that you’ll find in the box.

In terms of the packaging, the cardboard boxes are rough manual mockups but the white cardboard pulp insert to keep all the components snugly in position is finalized and working well - we went with cardboard here rather than a cheaper plastic alternative as part of our desire for Zapbox to tread as lightly as possible on the planet.

Overall we think the product is looking great and we’re really happy with the quality of this first sample. There are a few final tweaks that we want to make to the tools before signing off the full production of the first batch. Steven immediately jumped into these discussions with our manufacturing partner last week as soon as he received the sample and good progress is being made on making those changes.

This one-off box has also had a brief stopover with Simon in London over the past weekend so he could do some initial tests and provide feedback that can all be incorporated into this set of amends. He also took the opportunity to take some artsy portrait-mode photos of this first sample...

The main headset component is looking sharp. The adjustment ratchet at the back is working nicely and feels secure, the padding on the headband feels comfortable, and the quality of finish is looking good. We want to further improve the “stopper” on the glasses element to give additional security when sliding that part away from the headband, and there’s a small adjustment needed to the phone grips to make it a little easier to insert thicker phones whilst still keeping a firm hold for phones on the thinner end of the spectrum. 

The controllers now feature the high-gloss finish for the main user input buttons, along with a premium-feeling (and sounding!) action thanks to the addition of silicone covers over the switches on the PCB. The only remaining things to address from this sample are the approval of an improved print technique for the marker pattern on the end, and a minor improvement to the analog trigger.

The other custom components in the inner box (the lens clips and the calibration / alignment cap) are all looking great and working as intended.

Given the sheer number of custom-designed components that go into Zapbox, we’re pretty happy with the relatively short list of amends based on this first sample out of the moulds, although it does mean one more round of samples will be required before mass-production.

In addition to the minor tweaks, the finished product will of course also include numerous packaging designs and graphics, safety & quick start guides, and additional cosmetics, but this is very close to what we expect you will receive within the few months.

Timeline update

With most of the tweaks already underway, we are looking at another round of sample review within the next couple of weeks. Once signed off for mass production, we’ve been quoted timings of 15 days to produce all of the parts and 7 days for the assembly process.

The current supply chain challenges make it harder to pinpoint an exact date, but assuming the next round of samples are good to go, we expect to be able to sign-off mass production as soon as our manufacturing partners are back from their Chinese New Year break. That would see the products completed and ready for shipping in early March.

Shipping timings are also pretty volatile due to the pandemic, but we expect it to take around 6 weeks to get the products to our UK, US and EU fulfilment centers, plus perhaps a week or two to get them checked in and ready for the final leg to your doors. So April or May is currently our best guess for when you might expect your Zapboxes to arrive. We will continue to keep you updated as the timelines become more definitive in the coming weeks.

There’s also plenty of work that we’ll be doing on the software side over the next few months. We haven’t forgotten the Developer Bundle backers and Simon and his team will be working to bring you a first build of an updated runtime for Zapbox that will offer reduced camera latency and support for PC VR streaming. We’re planning to support these features for the existing Zapbox Cardboard kits too and we’ll keep you updated with our progress here.

Final thoughts

This year is shaping up to be an exciting one for the XR industry in general; if you’re like us, you might be equally excited and exhausted with all the Metaverse hype that has captured the world’s attention over the past couple of months. We’re hoping that Zapbox is not only part of the conversation, but stands out as an impressive, competitively priced, more-real-than-hype mixed reality headset that can immediately bring value for users looking to bring democratized XR to the masses. We thank you again for your support and patience, and we look forward to making Zapbox worth the wait!

Until next time,


- Team Zappar