Google Working on VR Headset for Use Without a Smartphone: Report

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2016-02-12 Print this article Print
Google,VR headsets, Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, VR viewer, augmented reality, VR, AR, Samsung Gear VR

The latest device is in addition to recent reports of an updated smartphone-based VR headset being created to replace Google Cardboard.

Google is in the midst of designing a stand-alone virtual reality headset device that would not require it to be used with a smartphone, unlike its existing Google Cardboard viewer.

The latest device would feature a screen, high-powered processors and outward-facing cameras, according to a Feb. 11 article in The Wall Street Journal. "Google plans to use chips from startup Movidius Inc. that use the cameras' feeds to track the motion of the user's head," according to the article, which cited unnamed sources.

By including processors in the device, the newest Google device would make it different from other VR products, such as the Oculus Rift, which are used when connected to PCs. It would be the first stand-alone VR viewer to be built that doesn't require an accompanying smartphone or PC, the story said.

The stand-alone device, which is still under development, is also being created to work with gaming consoles, the article reported. No schedule about a possible release date for the device is known at this time, the story said. "One of the people familiar with the matter said it could be unveiled this year, while two others cautioned that it is early in development and Google could decide not to release it."

It is possible that Google will unveil the project at its annual Google I/O developer conference in May, two sources told The Journal.

As part of the company's growing VR efforts, it is also updating its Android mobile operating system so it can work with a wider range of Android smartphones with VR-related features, the story reported. Presently, only a limited number of smartphones work with the existing Google Cardboard viewer. "One change would allow a phone to stay on even when it hasn't been touched for a while," several sources told The Journal.

The stand-alone VR viewer project comes on the heels of reports earlier this week about Google's planned revision for its existing Google Cardboard viewer, which is made of folded cardboard. Google Cardboard wraps around a compatible smartphone, which provides the technology features that give the VR viewer its functions. The updated Google Cardboard viewer will still be used with a smartphone.

The upcoming device will include additional support for the Android operating system and is expected to be released this year to replace Google Cardboard, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

Google Cardboard, which first appeared in 2014, is a simple VR viewer made up of cut-and-folded cardboard that is shaped into a boxy-looking VR device. The gadget has a slot that accepts a compatible Android smartphone so that it can take advantage of the phone's display and other features. Several other parts are used besides the cardboard, including some Velcro, a rubber band, two small magnets and some aftermarket lenses, which can be purchased online. Several companies also sell pre-cut and packaged kits of parts.

The first Cardboard device was dreamed up and built by Googlers David Coz and Damien Henry in 2014 at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris as part of a 20 percent project, where Google employees can use up to 20 percent of their work time to engage in projects that are interesting to them.

In October 2015, The New York Times partnered with Google Cardboard to distribute free Google Cardboard virtual-reality viewers to more than 1 million print newspaper home delivery subscribers as part of a special VR content and advertising promotion. The promotion allowed home subscribers to use their Google Cardboard viewers to dive deeper into The New York Times video content by seeing it using VR tools for a more immersive visual effect.

Interestingly, Apple is also reportedly looking to deepen its involvement in augmented reality and virtual reality by hiring experts in both fields as it moves to find new markets to help the company maintain healthy revenue and profit streams as iPhone sales flatten. Apple has hired more than 100 people to look into the business market for AR and VR in an effort to determine if the company can grow sales and revenue in a market currently led by competitors, such as Oculus, Samsung and Microsoft.

The VR industry is definitely growing with possibilities lately. In January, Oculus began taking preorders for its $599 Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, which will ship starting in May. Samsung launched its own $100 Gear VR virtual reality headset (pictured) last fall. The Samsung Gear VR is a consumer version of virtual reality headsets made by Oculus. The Gear VR works with Samsung's latest smartphone models—the Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+, S6 and S6 Edge.

In January, Oculus announced that it is taking preorders for its $599 Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, which will ship starting in May. Each Rift VR viewer will ship with an accompanying sensor, an Oculus Remote, cables, an Xbox One Controller and copies of the video games EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky's Tale, according to the company.



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