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].”
How to Build Google Cardboard Glasses From a Pizza Box
The required magnets should be one neodymium ring magnet such as this example or this, along with one ceramic disk magnet, like this example or this one, according to Google. The magnets are approximately 0.75 inch (19mm) in diameter and 0.12 inch (3mm) thick.
The Velcro required for the VR devices includes two strips of regular strength adhesive-backed velcro, measuring about 0.75 inch (20mm) by 1.25 inch (30mm).
A rubber band with a minimum length of 3.2 inch is needed to prevent the phone from sliding out.
Users can also include an optional near-field communications (NFC) tag to contain information that can be used with the device.
Users can build the Cardboard unit with simple tools including a ruler, glue, scissors and an X-acto knife, according to Google.
The experimental VR Toolkit that users can use to build applications for the viewer includes a tutorial and provided documentation to get started. “Because this SDK is experimental, it won’t receive the same level of support as core Android SDKs and libraries.” Google advised.
The first Cardboard device was dreamed up and built by Googlers David Coz and Damien Henry 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, according to Google. “The results elicited so many oohs and aahs that they inspired a larger group to work on an experimental SDK.”
The Cardboard device will work with most modern Android phones, according to Google, including the Google Nexus 4 and 5, the Motorola Moto X, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5, and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The HTC One, Motorola Moto G and the Samsung Galaxy S3 are partially compatible. Phones must be running Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or higher versions and ideally should also support NFC, according to Google.
Virtual reality has been making its way into the tech vernacular for some time.
In March, Facebook moved into the virtual reality headset business by buying Oculus VR for about $1.9 billion in cash and common stock, according to an eWEEK report.
The Menlo Park, Calif.-based social network agreed to pay $400 million in cash and 23.1 million shares of the company’s stock. At the March 25 closing price of $64.89, the stock changing hands in the deal was worth $1.5 billion. Oculus VR makes the Rift headset for 3D gaming and is based in Irvine, Calif. The company was founded in 2012 by Palmer Luckey, a self-described “virtual-reality enthusiast and hardware geek.”
Google already has its Google Glass technology, which is an eyewear-mounted computer with an expanding range of apps and frames. In August 2013, Google began sharing some of its Glass devices with several film schools around the United States to see how they might inspire young filmmakers to use them. One of the schools that used the devices, the University of Southern California, even used them in some experiments with augmented reality, according to an eWEEK report.