Certain phones that run Android can turn into a virtual reality headset thanks to Google Daydream, which uses the phone’s screen and processor as the basis for a virtual reality experience.
Daydream doesn’t work with iPhones, unfortunately. But a small startup, Occipital, has recently launched a new headset for Apple devices that can do more than any other mobile VR headset currently available — even the ones from Oculus and Google.
Occipital launched Bridge, a new headset that works with iPhone 6, iPhone 6S, and iPhone 7 on Friday. The mobile VR headset will go on sale widely in March for $399, but the company is selling early “explorer editions” that will be delivered before Christmas starting next week for $499.
Although Bridge is more expensive than, say, Google Cardboard or the View-Master Apple stores sell, it can do a lot more.
Drive my AR
Occipital is best known for the Structure Sensor, or an accessory for iPads that can tell how far away a wall or object is. The Structure Sensor is a good example of a 3D scanner.
The Structure Sensor is a key part of the Bridge headset, and combined with a wide-angle lens for the iPhone, it can accurately map the room the user is in.
Bridge can run any existing VR and VR-style content for the iPhone, like The New York Times’ series of VR videos, or anything that supports Google Cardboard. Plus, Occipital will make a plugin available to developers to supercharge their existing VR content so that it can tell when you move around.
But the Bridge is also the first iPhone headset to also do augmented reality, or AR, which is a huge buzzword in the technology industry today. Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about the technology regularly in public.
But unlike AR headsets like Microsoft Hololens, Bridge doesn’t use transparent glass. Instead, it uses the iPhone camera and the Structure Sensor to film the space in front of you, then it overlays computer graphics into the live streaming footage.
While there isn’t much AR software available for the Bridge yet, it will come with one compelling demo I got to try out. Bridget, a tiny robot, can be told to move around the room you’re in and fetch a ball. I opened up a “portal” that shot up from the ground. I walked inside, and was transported to a new, mechanical universe.
In another demo that won’t ship with the device but will be included in an early update, the Bridge was able to open up a window in a wall, and I could look inside, into a 3D room in a bookstore that was photographed in Boulder Colorado.
Although Bridget might get old quickly, Occipital believes its dedicated developer base will quickly grasp the possibilities of this new platform and develop software for it.
Occipital started working on Bridge shortly after it first raised funds on Kickstarter in 2013, Occipital CEO Jeff Powers told Business Insider.
The company believes that the project is probably the second most important product the company has released, aside from the original sensor.
“We’re trying to deliver really great augmented reality on mobile devices,” VP of marketing Adam Rodnitzky told Business Insider.
But that doesn’t mean the company always needs to sell hardware, especially as other companies start to build 3D sensors into devices. Lenovo and Google, for instance, have a phone with a built-in 3D sensor. And observers expect Apple to include a 3D sensor in the iPhone in the next few years.
So Occipial is investing heavily in software and wants to be a core part of AR as the industry continues to explode. “It’s a hardware product, but most of the work is going into the software side,” Rodnitzky said.