Google ended its annual I/O developer conference keynote with the peculiar announcement that it would be giving all attendees a piece of cardboard. It’s in support of a new virtual reality app for Android phones, appropriately called Cardboard, that Google says will allow people to experience virtual reality in a simple, fun and inexpensive way.
One of the interesting features is the simple magnet clicking system. When you pull and release the magnet ring your phone’s magnetometer detects changes in the magnetic field and works like a click. Cardboard is Google’s way of promoting development of next generation immersive digital experiences. The open software toolkit which accompanies the cardboard and is available on the website makes writing VR software a child’s play for web and app developers, claim Google developers. If you couldn’t attend the Google I/O and failed to get your hands on the Cardboard there is no need to be disappointed. Google has a step by step guide to build it using everyday objects on their site.
You will need some cardboard, Velcro, magnets, rubber bands and lenses to make this VR headset. The lenses are the most difficult part to get, everything else is easy. The whole setup costs about $50 to build. Once you have your headset built, you can download the Cardboard app which will display content split on the phone so that you see it as a single image through the headset.
What that means is you boot up this app on your phone, stick your phone in a piece of actual cardboard, cut out some eye sockets in said cardboard and then stick your face in the low-tech device. You may recall this application from the time your parents let you play with a refrigerator box when you were five. When looked through using special lenses, you can interact with various Google services like a VR headset.
The app which seems to be a real thing includes the ability to look at popular Google services such as YouTube and Google Earth in a VR environment. Google has even offered some handy instructions for how to engineer your own cardboard mask. While the competing Oculus Rift virtual reality device costs $350, Google says a Cardboard headset is absolutely free if you happen to have an extra-large pizza box lying around. If this seems too ridiculous to be real, remember that an app that does nothing except send people the word “Yo” was recently one of the top programs in Apple’s App Store. One man’s trash is another man’s next billion-dollar project.
It came from a 20% time project at Google. To start with, the app will let you fly around in Google Earth, take a tour of a famous place, study art works from all angles, take a Street Vue trip, look at a photo sphere that you’ve shot, etc. More is sure to come later.