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Founder & CEO
Inventor, Patent Holder
Head of Product
Head of Design
Technical Lead, SDK
In 2015 VR had begun to emerge in a big way from the likes of Google and Oculus leading the way with their Cardboard and Rift systems respectively. The key challenge to getting VR mainstream was to rethink the form factor and delivery method for VR content. Google Cardboard had the right approach by utilizing the smartphone, however it lacked interactivity and was delivered in a clunky form factor that was more DIY than consumer friendly. Likewise, PC tethered VR systems like the Oculus Rift provided incredibly interesting VR experiences, however the product form factor was also incredibly clunky and difficult to package for the casual consumer experience. The result was VR available in limited circumstances, with limited use cases.
What if VR was available any time, anywhere? There was an interesting quote that smartphone makers utilized in this period regarding cameras and the comparison to DSLR technology; “The best camera is the one that’s with you”. If we compare VR evolution to the digital camera, we see how smartphone cameras completely overtook the casual consumer market due to their ubiquity and availability as part of the smartphone feature set. The camera was now always in your pocket, and this enabled mass adoption and opened casual photography experiences and use cases never before seen that opened the doors for new platforms like Instagram.
If we take that very same idea, and expand the Google Cardboard concept to its logical conclusion, we may derive that VR is ultimately a feature of the smartphone, much like the camera. Although the smartphone enabled VR experience cannot compete with PC tethered systems, perhaps it’s not meant to much like how smartphone cameras don’t compete with DSLRs. These high end cameras still exist, but for much more specific use cases. This thinking was what led the strategy for PinchVR - essentially making VR integrated as part of the smartphone experience to enable ubiquitous use in increasing opportunities throughout the consumer’s lives.
The key execution challenges to make this happen are as follows:
Although there are several options for creating sleek VR headsets, we felt there was a lot already solved in utilizing smartphone components to drive entry level VR experiences. There were several smartphone accessories that were coupled with smartphones that were interesting. The smartphone case was the most obvious form factor that made sense in creating an experience that was attached to the smartphone and provided additional functionality, namely battery cases and wallet cases that were already successful in the marketplace.
Taking several learnings from my research in VR interfaces, it made sense to expand what users would consume in VR to include casual use cases like YouTube, Maps, Email, Browsing and make this possible in a new interface as a spatial Operating System. Later we would learn these were not the use cases consumers were interested in while using VR.
Having hands and the ability to interact in this environment is critical. However, the form factor and technical capability of this device would not allow for bulky controllers or specialized sensors for full hand tracking. As a result we have to find a way to achieve 80% of the results with 20% of the effort. This is where simplified, 3DoF pointer-based interactions made sense.
All of these conclusions were also based on a long list of assumptions that later proved to not be supported as the VR industry evolved to where it is in 2022.
We developed several utility and design patents for a pocket sized mobile VR system, doubling as a smartphone holder or case, that unfolds into a virtual reality headset and can be worn anytime anywhere.
Although there were several novel concepts we continued to utilize in the production design, we also revised several others that required rethinking due to comfort, manufacturing and ergonomic constraints. The key component to solve for was comfort which required several iterations to account for due to the size constraints we were working with within the collapsed state of the visor. To solve this we moved away from a padded interface with the user’s face, and instead relied on an optimized head strap design that offloaded pressure away from the bridge of the nose and moved it to the forehead.
The guided railing system for the optical assembly also required several iterations due to its sensitivity to movement in the expanded state of the visor. We derived a scissor X system that allowed for a spring loaded expansion and locking mechanism for the optical assembly that ensured the optics stayed perfectly still in their expanded state. The introduction of fresnel lenses to the design also opened up more possibilities with space optimization. We were able to achieve an overall thickness of 28mm for the enclosure in its collapsed state with the smartphone nested in the phone holder enclosure.
From this development, we filed several design and utility patents both in Canada and the US. Below is a list of applications that protected the invention:
Our target persona was the tech enthusiast looking for the latest technology to experiment with ie. the early tech adopters. Early adopters – innovators included – represent, at most, 16% of the market. We can typically recognize early adopters by these signs:
Successful crowdfunding campaigns are supported by hoards of early adopters, pre-paying to solve a “problem” they’re excited to share about. Early adopters are market and solution specific. They’re not a personality type.
Our initial conceptual renderings were focused around a smart-glasses design that ultimately proved unsuccessful due to comfort and lopsided weight distribution of the device. No matter how light the visor was, we still had to grapple with the weight of the smartphone on the bridge of the nose which ultimately moved the design to a broad 3-strap system. The final design, which later became SpaceCard, relied on ever increasing width of 30mm+ straps that offloaded an enormous amount of weight from the face of the user.
Much like today’s AirPods, the system controllers were concealed at either end of the enclosure, to the sides of the collapsed optical system. To manage complexity and cost of the overall system, we decided to focus on a computer vision-enabled interaction system relying on LED finger rings. The PinchVR phone enclosure would include a wide-angle lens adapter for the smartphone camera that would use real-time image tracking technology to track the rings in real time.
The controllers were magnetically latched in place, and would pop open to be used as LED rings with a single button triggering a pattern change in the LED to be recognized by the computer vision algorithm. The clicking, then, in this system would be enabled by ‘pinching’ the rings with the index finger and thumb.
PinchVR® is pocket-friendly in its collapsed mode allowing the user to swivel between a closed and open case design enabling the normal use of their smartphone within a 28mm thick form factor. Once expanded, PinchVR® became a fully featured VR system with popup lens assemblies, head strap and controllers. The back and forth between these two modes would be controlled by a mobile app sensing the orientation of the smartphone.
Due to the long list of features of the product, it was challenging to simplify focus on what the key differentiating feature was. We decided to focus on the actual interaction mechanic, or ‘pinching’ of controllers with the index finger and thumb to encapsulate the product experience and likewise reflect that in the branding. The design language was aimed to be futuristic, minimalist and aggressive in our pursuit to deliver a fundamentally new mobile experience.
Through the heavy use of 3D printing and other additive manufacturing techniques, we experimented with various designs and form factors before starting the mechanical engineering process. This rapid-prototyping approach quickly allowed us to test unique concepts and gauge their feasibility. The prototype shown here was one of the initial designs focused on the smart-glasses form factor that was ultimately abandoned due to ergonomic and comfort challenges.
For interface design, we followed a key principle from VR UX research and focused on extending traditional interfaces to take maximum advantage of the 3rd dimension creating what we call ‘Interface Environments’ as opposed to the dichotomy of Interface / Environment thesis that has dominated VR UX strategy. These ‘Interface Environments’ would allow for much more complex navigation systems that take advantage of physiological norms hardwired in human behavior.
The vision was to extend the traditional mobile interface beyond the limitations of the screen, and allow for a truly immersive experience in daily consumer computing. The main user interface would be a desktop-inspired home screen allowing users to navigate through several ‘mini-apps’ within the PinchVR ‘super-app’ which would essentially be an operating system within the iOS application.
We played with several spatial interface designs and highlighted some interesting navigation methods for both category surfing and search in 3D space.
Expanding on prior research, I wanted to take advantage of unlimited space in 3 dimensions where we could take existing 2D content from the web and put it on a spatial grid to be organized and sifted through in whatever manner the user was comfortable with.
Looking at the traditional Maps interface and putting it on steroids was the inspiration behind this solution. Although we had a novel concept, there were issues with ergonomics motion sickness which required us to revisit locomotion and solve these challenges.
Although this was a novel concept, we ultimately moved away from keyboard inputs in VR for voice recognition. Even though the concept technically worked, our input method lacked the fidelity to make this a consistent pleasant experience.
We continued to expand on ideas from our research in VR interfaces and recreate brick and mortar shopping experiences that took advantage of spatial design and spatial product showcasing. Combined with several abstractions, this was one of the most interesting use cases.
As part of the global crowdfunding campaign launch, we developed a short teaser video that’s goal was to succinctly demonstrate the product in as short of time as possible. From the unfolding case, to the VR headset, to interaction mechanics and finally the user interface.
Milan Baic of Cordon Inc - makers of PinchVR - describes how Pinch brings virtual reality to anyone with a smart phone for applications like shopping and retail.
Through the help of several PR agencies, we worked hard on spreading our crowdfunding campaign and educating the market on our product. After months of press and interviews, PinchVR was covered by over 60+ Publications throughout the world including press in US, Canada, Japan & UK with 15M+ impressions on the Brand and 250k+ Page Views. Notable publications included CNET, BNN, Engadget, National Post, The Verge, Techcrunch, CBC and The Globe and Mail among others.
We ran a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo with a target raise of about $50,000CAD. After 4 weeks, we blew past that target and raised over $120,000CAD with over 700+ Global Contributions worldwide.