At the tail end of September of this year, Wearable penned a listicle featuring the “best smartphone headsets for VR apps.” This list has big names like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, as well as lesser known headsets such as Freefly VR and Zeiss One. The mobile virtual reality market is oversaturated with professionals and amateurs — head over to a neighborhood GameStop to see novices like the Merge VR and the ReTrak Utopia 360 — and sifting through them all for the perfect headset for your iDevice can be arduous, especially when you’re looking for the iPhone. Enter San Francisco-based tech start-up, Occipital, with its new virtual reality headset designed specifically for the iPhone: Bridge.
Occipital does something wholly unique with Bridge — providing a “mixed reality” experience, as the company touts. What they mean is their interface allows for their software to interact natively with the real world environment, so you can not only see where you’re going but also watch as your living room transforms into a Zen garden, your couch covered illustriously in fauna. On the official Bridge website, Occipital writes, “This is what we’ve always dreamed of. This is the bridge between fantasy and reality. Where virtual characters can enter our world and interact with our environment as if they were really there. Or where we can enter and immerse ourselves in a virtual world, while still staying comfortably aware of ours.” This bridge between fantasy and reality is what makes Bridge novel. According to Occipital, Bridge has two reality settings — mixed and virtual — and these two allow for the amalgam of the real and the fantastical, the tangible and the intangible, and you as the wearer have the ability to choose between the experiences.
Interestingly, Bridge features six degrees of freedom (commonly written as 6DoF): up and down; left and right; and pitch, roll, and yaw. This level of positional tracking elicits a sensation of immersive virtual reality, but also sounds sickening as pitch, roll, and yaw is commonly done while spinning (or flipping) on the X and Y axes. (Think back flips or front flips, or barrel rolls a la Star Fox.)
“Bridge allows for the amalgam of the real and the fantastical, the tangible and the intangible.”
What’s more telling is how “optimized for iPhone” Bridge is, Occipital states. The company claims, “With Bridge, all the compute you need is on the iPhone you already own. Bridge Engine efficiently synthesizes data from the Structure Sensor’s depth sensing system and the iPhone’s color camera and IMU to deliver breathtaking mixed reality experiences.” While this sounds good, it seems Bridge is really tailored toward the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, rather than, say, the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, or hell even the iPhone 5s. (Who really has an iPhone 5s these days, though?) Like most (all?) mobile virtual reality headsets, Bridge’s compartment for the handset opens up like a door, the phone slides into place, the door closes, and is kept secure by a short lightning cable connecting the iPhone to the Structured Sensor mounted on top of the door. (As found on the headset’s website, the door is upgradeable to make the phone more secure.)
The most compelling part of the entire headset, however, is the software built in; Occipital uses its in-house engine, Bridge Engine, to power the device. Interestingly, Bridge Engine works in conjunction with Unity 3D, which can be interpreted as Bridge Engine is powered by Unity 3D. Whatever the case, when you pick up the device, you get access to Unity, which means you can develop projects, upload them to your iPhone, and experience them with Bridge, encouraging and DIY kind of mantra.
Bridge by itself (headset, sensor, and controller) is $399 and will ship in March 2017, but if you pick up the Bridge Explorer Edition (headset, sensor, two controllers — one ships later free of charge — a t-shirt, and a limited edition Bridge blueprint) for $499, you get it on December 16. You can watch the announcement video above or right here, and head here for more details on Bridge.
[Featured Image By Adam Rodnitzky/Occipital]