If you’re looking for an iPhone VR headset, you know Apple will keep you waiting. But Occipital demoed their Bridge VR device at CES 2017 and its worth checking out. Not only does it give you virtual reality through your iPhone, it also does Mixed Reality.
This is as close as you’ll get to a HoloLens like experience with an Apple device. And as their CEO notes, it has tremendous potential in education for far less than the cost of HoloLens.
The Bridge iPhone VR Headset
Here’s the four-minute video by Occipital touting the features of their Bridge iPhone VR headset:
Occipital’s device uses inside-out tracking while desktop powered VR rigs are still using positional tracking. As Motherboard notes, this allows Bridge to offer VR, AR and mixed reality experiences.
Mobile VR headsets today are limited to tracking your head movement (rotational tracking). Desktop VR headsets are able to track your forward, upward, or sideward movement (positional tracking) but they need external devices to track the headset’s position.
Occipital Bridge is a headset for the iPhone that uses Occipital’s Structure depth-sensing camera as an inside-out tracking device, enabling positional tracking with 6 degrees of freedom, without any external devices.
Mixed Reality for education and other uses
The room scanning camera gives you full mixed reality through the device, a Smartphone version of HoloLens. You can walk around, you won’t trip over your furniture, open portals and step into virtual worlds.
A lot of what’s in the video are just Bridge demos right now. However, you can interact with a virtual robot that plays catch with you – which is remarkable. Occipital has released a Unity plugin to support developers that want to create content.
Occipital CEO Jeff Powers envisions what you can do with the device, especially in education.
Education developers could make [a mixed reality] app where the first five US presidents occupy chairs in your living room. This could make learning history a lot more personal and fun. Another idea would be to create a kind of Rube Goldberg app that takes place in your home, where you could use objects around you (virtually) to have fun and learn about physics and machinery at the same time.
Of course, Microsoft is already there with HoloLens. And HoloLens has features – such as persistent objects – that would be difficult to implement in a Smartphone based mixed reality unit.
But Redmond’s device costs $3,000. Occipital’s Bridge can be preordered now for only $399, with a March shipping date. And Bridge comes with a 90 field of view, almost double that of HoloLens. At CES 2017 their demo unit had latency issues, running at 50ms, far about the 20ms you need to feel immersed in a virtual environment. But they’re promising 10ms for the preordered unit.
Is Bridge the future?
Not surprisingly, Occipital got a lot of press at CES 2017 for releasing an iPhone VR headset that can do mixed reality. It’s not the most elegantly designed unit, but definitely functional. According to Motherboard, a smaller design may be in the works.
Looking at it now, you feel it’s the kind of the device that Apple could lay waste to if they released an iPhone AR headset this fall. But despite everyone’s speculations (including our own), there’s nothing from Apple – until there is.
What will be challenging for Occipital is if Apple releases AR glasses that keeps the iPhone in your pocket instead of attached to your face. But it’s not clear that Apple (or anyone right now) can pull that off with glasses stylish enough to wear anywhere. And glasses that give you not just an AR overlay, but a full mixed reality experience.
Bridge is a fascinating development, a huge step forward for mixed reality on a Smartphone. It’s got some major gaps to fill – a more refined design and content. But for a VR/AR Mixed Reality device under $500, this is emerging technology definitely worth following.
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.