June 27, 2014
Google’s Answer To Virtual Reality – Cardboard Meets Android
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Love them or hate them, Google is one of the more innovative companies that has ever existed in the course of human history.
They are the company that sought to broaden the scope of internet connectivity to the farthest and poorest reaches of this planet via their Project Loon high-altitude balloon internet connectivity initiative at the same time they were developing a driverless car. They have made it as easy to cruise down the streets of San Tropez in Google Maps as it is to translate “May I please have a beer?” at the cafe you just drove past with the click of a mouse. In case you're wondering, Google Translate lets you know that in San Tropez, all one must say to get a frosty brew is: Puis-je s'il vous plaît prendre une bière? And then, of course, there was the swift dominance over Apple in the smartphone market when Google announced their Android Operating System. This is a company with fingers in dozens of different pies.
When Facebook announced their acquisition of Oculus for $2 billion, you had to know their foray into the emerging world of virtual reality (VR) would not go unanswered by the giant tech company up the road whose name has long been used in verb form. In the face of Zuckerberg's obviously serious commitment to the new technology, you would have expected Google to pull out the heavy artillery for a clear and decisive response to the social network. But Google can be like the Spanish Inquisition that way. Much like that dark time in European history made humorous by Monty Python, no one expected this response from Google.
Developed by two team members, David Coz and Damien Henry at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, the Google Android VR project's genius is in its simplicity. Coz and Henry worked in their 20 percent time, a portion of each day the company gives employees to work on their own passion projects, on developing the basic physical contraption that would eventually lead to the creation of a software development kit (SDK). Google unveiled the contraption and SDK this week at their developer conference to a chorus of 'oohs' and 'ahhs' from those in attendance.
Google Cardboard is the $50 answer to Facebook's $2 billion investment in VR technology. According to Taylor Hatmaker at readwrite.com, it is supported by a real and true desire to break into the virtual reality space.
In a post about the project, Google explained: "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.
"The result is Cardboard, a no-frills enclosure that transforms a phone into a basic VR headset, and the accompanying open software toolkit that makes writing VR software as simple as building a web or mobile app."
The contraption is basically a folded piece of cardboard that, according to James O'Toole with CNNMoney, creates a type of viewfinder that includes a slot meant for your smartphone. Your phone will require a quick download of the Cardboard Android app to explore this rudimentary exercise in virtual reality meant for the masses.
Despite being created from cardboard, the team of Coz and Henry used adhesive Velcro straps to help keep the goggles together. And your Android smartphone, which must be running Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) or higher, is held in place by a trusty rubber band.
Navigation isn't too difficult, either, on this apparatus. This is because the two Paris-based designers placed magnet sliders on the side of the goggles that can be used to manipulate the phones magnetometer. This allows one to jump from that cafe in San Tropez to the outer reaches of space to videos on YouTube with a flick of the finger on the side of the goggles.
Whichever program you find yourself enjoying, in true VR fashion, your view perspective will correspond to your actual physical movements. Whether turning your attention from that cafe in the south of France to the warm waters of the Mediterranean just across the street or looking from our moon to the constellation Orion, Google Cardboard will allow even the most cost-conscious user to explore the world and the universe through VR.
We truly don't expect that this will be the final product offering from Google with regard to VR, but it is a fun and quirky entry into the market that will allow developers to work with the recently released software for the development of more functionality in the near future. Google has also released instructions on their website for the construction of your own Google Cardboard. The FAQ section has a lot of helpful hints for this new initiative. My favorite is the suggestion that if you are planning on making your Google Cardboard out of a pizza box, you might want to opt for an extra large.