Occipital Bridge. A bridge to next-gen mobile VR?
Without any doubt it sure is.
What is Occipital Bridge?
Basically the Bridge is a combination of a Structure sensor, a VR Headset and a Wide-angle lens. Oh and least but certainly not last: Good software and a good Smartphone: iPhone 6(S) or iPhone 7.
Apart from the dedicated software most hardware parts where already for sale for at least a few years.
To really answer the question we need to go back to 2013.
In 2013 Occipital, an American startup company, launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the Structure Sensor, a 3D scanner/Augmented reality gadget for iPads.
The project was successfully funded and the Structure Sensor was born. A solid and good product but not widely known.
Developers did not create much Apps for this device. So this month Occipital took matters into their own hands again and released a very innovative and free App called Canvas.
Canvas is a 3D room scale scanning tool for Apple tablets (using the structure sensor) which makes it possible to scan building interiors and create accurate meshes in a matter of seconds... with an iPad!.
Its even possible to pay a small amount and get a 3D model from the scan. Compared to expensive and complicated 3D scanners this opens doors for the home usage of room scaled 3D scanning for divers purposes. Together with this fantastic iOS App Occipital now sells a wide-angle lens to increase scanning speed and quality. Both hardware and software form the base of the Bridge headset. Combined with a quality headset which accommodates your iPhone, the wide-angle lens and the Structure sensor all ingredients needed for positional tracking in VR and Mixed Reality are available, creating a very innovative device: Occipital Bridge.
So it's a 3D scanner, it enables Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality and positional tracking for Virtual, augmented and Mixed Reality. Sounds to good to be true. But it is true. And I received the Explorer edition a short while ago.
Off course I was already bragging about it to friends and colleagues before it arrived and was hoping to show it the next day. Unfortunately the software was not available yet:
Occipital choose to focus on sending the hardware first because of post delays during Xmas. 2 days later the software started to become available.
First the SDK and the next morning a little App called Bridget was published to the AppStore. Bridget is a little Virtual robot that lives in your living room, or anywhere you want it to liver. It interacts with your real surrounding creating a Mixed Reality. It works very well. You can even throw a virtual ball and Bridget will get it and bring it back to you. It avoids real live obstacles that are in its way.
Like most other headsets Bridge has 2 bi-convex lenses, non-adjustable, a 3 way headstrap, a front opening to place your iPhone and a main body made from plastic which covers everything from your face until the iPhones screen.
This headset is specially designed for the iPhone 6/6S/7. There is no Plus version (yet). The front cover is solid and shuts with a strong magnet. Be assured your phone will not fall out. It clicks stable in the case and its a perfect fit.
The headstrap also feels solid. The strap that goes over the head is a regular textile one. The strap that goes around the head horizontally is made from plastic material and is adjustable through a rotational button on the back side. This works. Yet again a perfect fit. Although the headset is heavy and the structure sensor adds a lot of weight on the front, the headset is well-balanced and feels light when using it.
The PMMA Optical-Grade Acrylic lenses are approx. 38mm in diameter, which is a common size for Virtual Reality headsets designed for smart phones. These are a bit close to the eyes and tend to fog a little bit.
In many ways this headset has more in common with the HTC Vive and other non-mobile premium headsets than with the regular mobile VR headsets. The price also helps...
Don't forget that an iPhone 7 and a Bridge together are more expensive than a HTC Vive, Oculus or Playstation VR. But when compared to the Microsoft Hololens its about a third of its price. And because this headset is its only competitor on the market at this moment its fair to mention this.
The Bridge can be used as a regular mobile VR headset without the structure sensor and the wide-angle lens. If used like that it still feels premium and only its weight and lack of adjustable IPD + focal length and price could be seen as negative aspect when compared with the top iPhone compatible headsets of today like Merge VR and Homido V2.
Positional Tracking in Virtual Reality
Positional tracking is the most important feature mobile VR lacks at the moment of writing. Even the two holy grails Gear VR and Google Daydream View do not have this feature. Only premium headset like the HTC Vive have positional tracking capabilities. Vic0 VR promises to bring this to mobile VR but then you'll need an extra piece of hardware. Besides that it is limited as it is a Xbox kinetic like tech and does not track from inside the headset. So its fair to state Bridge is the first VR headset with positional tracking that is completely wireless. No wires, no need for external hardware (like a pc or playstation), just an 4,7 inch iPhone.
Okay, enough nerdy talk. Lets try this out. Starting takes a while. When you want to use VR with positional tracking or a mixed reality app you´ll have to scan your surroundings first. Actually before that you´ll have to BT pair the controller and calibrate the structure sensor with your iPhone. For this you need a checkerboard occipital provides. I opened the checkerboard on my iPad and this worked just fine. Maybe the results are better if you print it. But i did not #Lazy. After calibrating the sensor I had to scan the room arround me. This is not boring, its amazing, the structure sensor creates a real/time matrix like grid mapping my furniture in 3 dimensions. After scanning part of the room the software calculates for a minute or two and now we can put on the headset and start the immersion.
Occipital warned me that I should have an iPhone 6S or an iPhone 7, positional tracking an MR need al lot of processing power to achieve what it does. I own a iPhone 6. And my first experiences we´re with this very ancient iPhone 6. Yeah, it is not fluid and the immersion is not optimal. Fortunately I know people... people who have an iPhone 6S. This works much better. It's not as smooth as the real world but it is smooth enough to get a good immersion. And it feels like freedom. After trying more than 50(!!!) headsets now I can walk in my own room and with me there is a little robot called Bridget. And Bridget interacts with the stuff in my room. I could not help to think of 100 new possibilities when I experienced this. Mixed Reality is awesome, positional tracking is awesome. And both or very necessary.
After trying the demo bridget App I open Unity (a VR capable developer tool) on my mac and tried to integrate the positional tracking script Occipital has provided me. And it works. I used on of the game levels I created for the VR iOS Game FastHit VR and now I am able to walk inside the level! not just stand and look around... no, I am exploring it. Because my room is scanned the ...
There is so much to write about this device and wihtin a couple of weeks I will receive the motion controller that ships with this device so this article will be updated!
- Unity plugin to create Mixed Reality (now only Xcode version available)
- Canvas App on iPhone/Bridge (now only iPad version without bridge available)
- iPhone 8 with very high-resolution and 100hz screen, better camera and faster hardware.Country of origin: United States
Pro's and Con's:
- Mixed Reality on a iPhone
- Mobile VR with room-scale 6-DoF positional tracking
- 3D scanning capabilities
- Overall quality
- Only available for 4.7 inch iPhone models
- No adjustable IPD and focal length
If you order from a country outside of the United States, please keep in mind that you might have to pay import tax and VAT. I live in The Netherlands and had to pay about 100€ when I received the order.