I’ve been aware of San Diego-based XR company Campfire since CES last year, where I swore to secrecy in order to gain access to its first AR demos. Since then, Campfire has quickly matured into a complete solution for professional 3D design and collaboration —one that explicitly seeks take advantage of existing platforms to advance and improve AR and VR. Campfire has already raised $8M in seed funding and its platform is on pace for commercial availability before the end of this year. However, while Campfire could easily be mistaken for just another AR or VR headset, it is much more than that. Let’s take a closer look.
If Campfire’s headset looks familiar, that’s because a lot of the headset’s IP comes from the defunct Meta Company’s AR headset which shut down in 2019 and sold to Meta View, which became Campfire. While Meta Company’s headset was ahead of its time, the company failed to deliver functioning products on time and had many bugs (especially tracking). Campfire picked it up and started all over again. There are five components to the Campfire platform: the Campfire Headset, the Campfire Console, the Campfire Pack, Campfire Scenes and the Campfire Viewer.
The Campfire headset features a resolution of 2560 x 1440 with a 60Hz refresh rate. Its 92-degree FoV (field of vision) is capable of supporting both AR and VR applications with the quick switching of magnetically attached lenses for translucent (AR) or opaque (VR) use. While the original intention of this headset was AR, the ability to support VR is a good thing for its overall utility. While this means it could technically be classified as an XR headset, Campfire prefers to call it a Holographic Collaboration System. A direct-wired connection from the Campfire headset to the PC is necessary in order to provide the power and reliability required by professional users in the enterprise. While I believe that in time Campfire will likely move towards a wireless solution via WiGig (or some other mmWave solution), for now, that technology is not reliable enough for enterprise applications.
The console and controller
The Campfire system uses a tabletop ‘console’ for tracking and object permanence, but I expect that there will be more applications in future. The Campfire headset features inside-out tracking but doesn’t utilize any RGB cameras—a design choice that could make it particularly well-suited for sensitive defense applications. The company also utilized this tracking system to develop a ‘Pack’ that attaches to any existing smartphone and turns it into a Campfire controller. I like this approach for inputs. Campfire takes advantage of hardware that users are already familiar with, and combines it with its own internal sensors and touchscreen. It’s a strong proposition.
In addition to Campfire’s three hardware pieces, there are also two crucial software components that round the platform out. First, you have Campfire Scenes, which enables users to create scenes from existing 3D models for quick reviews. While this task traditionally necessitates powerful PC workstations, this is not the case with Campfire Scenes. This software allows companies, engineers and artists to build 3D models of products using the industry-standard software and applications they have always used.
In addition to Campfire Scenes is the Campfire Viewer. This offering enables multiple users to collaborate in the same space during video calls using a Campfire Headset, tablet or smartphone, making design reviews and other forms of spatial collaboration much more manageable. Interestingly, Campfire does not handle any audio. However, this makes total sense when you consider how many enterprise customers don’t want yet another service for voice communications to have to certify and qualify. While this may not always be the case, I believe that many companies are happy to take advantage of their preexisting communication platforms. This decision shows that Campfire wants to fit into existing professional 3D workflows rather than moving them in an entirely new direction—a unique approach. Campfire also shared that it is leveraging a major cloud vendor for secure collaboration, but hasn’t identified the company by name as of yet.
Lastly, Campfire has its own enterprise management console, which means that IT departments won’t have to onboard new users and create new identities and accounts. Instead, IT departments can use their existing domains and identities to log users into their respective accounts.
Hands on experience
I’ve gotten to try Campfire in its many different iterations over the past year, as it evolved from a headset and controller into a complete design and collaboration solution. All iterations of the Campfire headset I’ve tried were fully-functional 3D-printed prototypes which gave me an idea of what the headset would look and feel like. Every iteration of the headset was more refined, more comfortable and easier to use than the previous one. The Campfire team has also considerably improved the user experience and nailed the concept of enhancing workflows rather than disrupting them. The image quality is still top-notch and I would believe has enough resolution to be used for enterprise applications.
Campfire’s approach will also utilize a monthly subscription model for the complete solution, rather than parting out different pieces of the platform for different prices. While the company has not yet disclosed the all-inclusive monthly price, I expect Campfire is targeting enterprises that can afford it. That is to say, I expect the pricing to be accessible for many medium to large businesses. Campfire has already announced its deep involvement with Frog Design, one of the world’s leading design firms and the company behind the design of Campfire’s hardware. While I do not expect Campfire to sell the headset without the entire platform solution, if it did, I would expect it to cost roughly $1,000—already way outside of what consumers would pay. In the long term, I could see Campfire offering upgrades to subscribers that leverage technologies like wireless or hand tracking.
The path forward
While the Campfire platform makes use of some of Meta View’s technological capabilities in the headset, it solves many of the problems that early AR headsets, like Meta View, had. While some had amazing optics, image quality and even a great field of view, in the end, most of them completely failed to deliver practical usage within existing workflows. Professional 3D designers and engineers don’t want to completely disrupt their existing workflows to take advantage of spatial computing and Campfire seems to get that. I believe that Campfire’s approach will resonate with certain segments of the market, such as defense, that are very sensitive to camera-based tracking technologies. I think the platform will also be attractive to companies that don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel in order to work in professional 3D environments.
An early access pioneer program for the Campfire platform is now open and will have commercially availability in Q4 of this year. Considering where the market is today with enterprises snapping up headsets for remote collaboration and design review, Campfire’s complete solution couldn’t have come at a better time. While Campfire is not alone in this market, it is by far one of the most comprehensive solutions I have seen to date. I believe it will be ready for enterprise deployment this year.