Google just came up with one of the craziest things that it's unveiled since the driver-less car. If that isn't different enough, Google now has published plans and an app that will allow a smartphone user to build a small, simple virtual-reality viewer for their phone that they can then use to view various Google services such as Google Earth, YouTube and more for amazing VR experiences.
Making the project even crazier, the device, which Google calls "Cardboard," is made by cutting and folding cardboard until it is shaped into a boxy-looking VR viewer. Several other parts are also needed, including some Velcro, a rubber band, two small magnets and some aftermarket lenses, which can be purchased online.
"We want everyone to experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and inexpensive way," Google explained on a Web page for the project, which was readied just in time for this week's annual Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco. "That's the goal of the Cardboard project."
Using those components, a person with basic skills can build "a no-frills enclosure that transforms a phone into a basic VR headset," while an accompanying open software toolkit can help users write VR software that is as simple as building a Web or mobile app, according to the project's Web page. "Virtual reality has made exciting progress over the past several years. However, developing for VR still requires expensive, specialized hardware. Thinking about how to make VR accessible to more people, a group of VR enthusiasts at Google experimented with using a smartphone to drive VR experiences."
That's how the Cardboard project was born. "By making it easy and inexpensive to experiment with VR, we hope to encourage developers to build the next generation of immersive digital experiences and make them available to everyone."
Cardboard uses sensors that are already present in Android, including a magnetometer, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a compass, a camera and more to create an immersive experience, a Google spokesperson told eWEEK in an email reply to an inquiry.
Google services that can be explored using Cardboard include Google Earth, where users can "fly" wherever they'd like to go; Tour Guide, where users can visit Versailles with a local guide; YouTube, where users can watch popular YouTube videos on a massive screen; Exhibit, where users can examine cultural artifacts from every angle; Photo Sphere, where users can look around the photo spheres they've captured; Street Vue, where users can drive through Paris on a summer day; and Windy Day, where users can follow a story in an interactive animated short from Spotlight Stories, according to Google.
Illustrations are available on the Web page to show users how to build the gadgets. The corrugated cardboard required to build one of the devices is called E Flute, which designates the thickness of the material that is necessary for easier construction, the instructions state. E Flute cardboard can be obtained at art supply stores or online, according to Google. "For best results, you should look for strong, thin cardboard (sturdy shoe box rather than moving box). Minimum size: 8.75 inches (22cm) by 22 inches (56cm), and 0.06 inch (1.5mm) thickness."
Several online sources are offered in the post. A pizza box can also be used, according to Google, but "make sure you order an extra large."
The trickiest component to obtain is probably the lenses that are required, according to the post. "Lenses that have a 40mm focal distance should work. Biconvex lenses work best because they prevent distortion around the edges. We used the Durovis OpenDive Lens Kit available [on Amazon]."