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Can This Stylus Solve Virtual Reality's Input Problem?

Maybe not for gaming, but there's potential for other applications here.


Who wants a stylus?” Steve Jobs mockingly asked while introducing the iPhone in 2007.

The answer might be people wearing virtual reality and augmented reality headsets, which still lack a clear input solution. Phree, a gadget developed by Tel Aviv-based OTM Technologies, quickly surpassed its $100,000 Kickstarter goal earlier this week, and OTM co-CEO Gilad Lederer said it’s flexible enough to be useful for someone who can’t see it.

“When you’re immersed in virtual reality, you can’t see what’s around you,” Lederer said in an interview with Re/code. “When I hold this, I can do any action with it: Point and click, enter text, scribble, move it like a joystick.”

Unlike “smart” pens that bring handwriting to touchscreens such as tablets, Phree uses a sensor built next to the stylus’ tip to register motion in 3-D, and then beams that motion via Bluetooth to a computer or mobile device. That means that the pen, which can pair with multiple devices, doesn’t care where it’s touching down.

The device has two buttons, meaning it would not be as versatile for gaming as, say, the Xbox or PlayStation controllers commonly found today with demos of Facebook’s Oculus Rift or Sony’s Project Morpheus. But for non-gaming tasks that might otherwise require a mouse or keyboard, there may be potential for developers.

Currently, Lederer said, Windows and Android already support Bluetooth mice and handwriting recognition. On iOS, there would need to be a dedicated application made for Phree by OTM or a developer partner to record input from the stylus.

And because the device is designed primarily for non-VR devices, it might not be a perfect solution for those devices; being able to write anywhere is a cool gimmick, but most headsets will lack the ability (at least at first) to see your hands or the outside world, meaning users will have to find a good spot to write before they don the googles, and rely on their sense of balance to keep themselves properly positioned. On the other hand (literally), Lederer said Phree will write “on your lap, your pants, your skin, and the back of your hand.”

OTM plans to start shipping the Phree to Kickstarter backers in spring 2016.

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