Here’s a new virtual reality device – but this one isn’t for gaming

Nov. 24, 9:47 a.m. EST: This story has been updated to reflect Cordon Media’s decision to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo instead of Kickstarter. 

Milan Baic taps and swipes through the air, an orange box shading his eyes and sets of red and green blinking lights adorning his fingers.

As he moves his head to the left, the image on the desktop display in front of him changes, also zooming to the left. He presses his fingers together, and the image in front of him gets selected. An animated killer whale then swims across the screen.

“What we’ve created first is a demo … Just a very rough concept. We wanted to showcase what we can do,” he says, flicking it away and pulling up a new screen, showing a screen of iOS 8.

“If you look at Pin?, it’s literally like being inside a computer … What we have here is essentially depth spatial computing. I can see all the different applications I have open. If I look down, I have my full-size keyboard. If I look up, I have all my tools and settings, almost like a cockpit or control panel.”

Milan Baic using Pin?.
Milan Baic using Pin?.

Baic is the president of Cordon Media, a digital agency based in Toronto. Founded in 2008, the company’s usual focus is on client projects, building apps and websites for their clients – typically not touching the realm of virtual reality. Yet the team has spent the last few months working on this virtual reality project during their nights and weekends, and this has been the result.

Branded as Pin? and pronounced as “pinch,” the device is essentially a “passion project,” Baic says. It’s made up of a 3D printed plastic case, about 24 millimetres thick, attached to an iPhone 6 or an iPhone 6 Plus. Inside is a pair of lenses, with a retractable elastic to fit over the wearer’s face and head.

The device takes advantage of the iPhone 6’s larger screen, its M8 motion co-processor and its camera, which Cordon has further improved with an off-the-shelf lens. Once a user straps in a smartphone, and then attaches the contraption to their face, they’ll be granted a full 3D version of what’s appearing on their screen. The end result looks something like Google Cardboard.

Aside from the headset component of the device, Pin? also includes two “pinchers,” which are essentially small controllers that a user can hold in his or her hands. Each pincher contains red and green LED lights, watch batteries to power them, and a magnetic latch that clicks closed and switches on the lights.

Pin? in its closed form.
Pin? in its closed form.

It’s not too high-tech, but this is a prototype, and Cordon has mostly focused on the software behind the device, Baic says. The company created a light algorithm that focuses on converting the camera feed into two tracking points. That allows the user to click, pinch, and zoom on whatever they see in front of them, which is a lot easier than trying to replicate full hand and arm gestures, Baic says.

The company plans to launch an Indiegogo campaign on Nov. 24, selling pre-orders for the Pin? for $99 each. Cordon is hoping to attract developers and early adopters to the product, giving them access to its software development kit and encouraging them to play around with their platform. The platform runs on Unity, a popular system for game development.

A desktop showing what a Pin? user is seeing through his lenses.
A desktop showing what a Pin? user is seeing through his lenses.

Cordon isn’t the first company to get involved with virtual reality. Right now, the most well-known example is Oculus VR, which has been working on its much-hyped Oculus Rift headset for the past few years. The headset, destined for 3D immersive gaming, is still in development, but even so, Facebook acquired the company for $2 billion in March. And this week, Samsung also announced its own take on what a virtual reality headset should look like, releasing news of its upcoming Gear VR, a headset that will be paired with the Note 4.

But although Pin? isn’t as sophisticated as these headsets, which are largely geared towards a gamer audience, Baic says his team is reaching for a totally different use case. Pin? doesn’t have the split-second responsiveness of the Oculus – in fact, it can be a bit laggy – but it doesn’t have to, he argues.

For example, he sees Pin? as a vehicle for use cases like mobile commerce, allowing its wearers to browse retailers’ mobile storefronts in 3D. Users could pick up and examine a product in 3D, turning it from all angles to see what it looks like.

“We’re actually focusing VR to really just expand the capabilities of the phone. Pin? would be used for watching YouTube videos, full capable desktop browsing, things like Photoshop, content creation, commerce, shopping, visualization – there are just so many different use cases for VR outside of gaming that nobody’s really been able to focus on.”

And for Baic, Pin? also tackles a problem that wearable tech has faced for some time – appealing to people who don’t want to wear their devices everywhere they go. That’s been one of the turnoffs of Google Glass – it’s not very subtle, as people typically will notice it. Pin? can be tucked away into a bag and pulled out when a user wants it, Baic says.

The goal for the next month is to see how Pin? performs during its Kickstarter campaign, he says. He adds if there’s demand, Cordon will also port Pin? over to Android.

“We wanted to invest some time, build a prototype, show it to the community and ask, do you guys want this?” he says. “We want to start on the first page of the book and let the community finish the book.”

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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