The idea behind Google Cardboard is straightforward—to provide an immersive experience in a simple and affordable way. This project is promising. Although there were several attempts to introduce virtual reality even before the dawn of the new millennium, none of them enjoyed mainstream success. Google is taking a fresh and unique approach. This time, using the existing smartphone market, including the community of developers and manufacturers, and by providing the blueprints for designing and developing hardware, apps, and contents, the tech giant reconstructs the practical applications of virtual reality.
Google Cardboard is a solution for popularising virtual reality using a low cost model to encourage interest and development. Introduced at the 2014 Google I/O Developer Conference and initially invented by David Coz and Damien Henry, engineers at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, the entire concept is a development platform, a hardware manufacturing standard, and an app and smartphone feature all rolled into one innovative project.
Developers can readily use the Google-provided software development kit to build smartphone apps that would feature virtual experiences for use with a simple, foldout cardboard mount or headset. These apps can display three-dimensional scenes with binocular rendering, track and react to movements, and interact with the compatible operating system.
Manufacturers are also free to build and sell their own cardboard mount or Cardboard headsets using the open source Manufacturer Kit that outlines the Google-required specifications, branding guidelines, and best practices. Even individuals can readily build their own headsets using everyday items available from home and local hardware stores. Google provides a simple but detailed instruction for building Cardboard headsets.
Google has rolled out several apps and contents to introduce the possibilities that could emerge from promoting the use of Google Cardboard. Expeditions, a Google Education side project, uses virtual reality to help teachers integrate an immersive learning experience in their curriculum or classroom discussions. They can take their students on field trips to anywhere they can imagine or let them visualise and appreciate abstract concepts.
YouTube has uploaded several videos that feature a 360-degree viewing experience when watched from a Cardboard headset. Viewers can watch the music video of an artist as if they are on set or a concert as if they are there live. They can also experience how jumping off a cliff or paragliding feels like from the perspective of the diver or glider himself.
Through Jump, Google encourages content creators to produce similar 360-degree videos. The Jump platform is a hodgepodge of equipment, software, and standards, or in other words, an entire ecosystem for producing 360-degree videos.
Numerous companies have also used Google Cardboard to introduce a new product or improve consumer experience. Automaker Volvo launched its branded Cardboard headsets and the Volvo Reality Android app in November 2014 to users experience the luxury SUV XC90. Toy manufacturer Mattel has collaborated with Google and announced in February 2015 the launch of the virtual reality version of its iconic stereoscopic viewer View-Master.
The success of Google Cardboard remains indefinite. Remember that the company has temporarily shelved off a somehow similar project, the Google Glass, after a series of developer and user immersions. But virtual reality is getting a foothold among tech companies. Samsung has introduced the Gear VR as an optional accessory to the Galaxy Note 4 and even social media giant Facebook has ventured into similar undertaking after it acquired the virtual reality startup Oculus in March 2014. Of course, the success of virtual reality remains largely dependent on mainstream appeal. Photo credit: Google, Inc.