Google is taking a very low tech approach to virtual reality and has created an Oculus Rift competitor of sorts. Dubbed Cardboard, the product was unveiled during the Google I/O keynote as it was gifted to attendees.What is it, you ask? Well, it’s a pretty basic invention made out of… cardboard, which obviously explains the name. Of course, there are some additional parts, like some lenses, a bit of Velcro and some magnets. The most important component, however, is your very own smartphone, which you can slide right in and transform into a virtual reality device.
The idea came from a “20 per cent” project from Googlers David Coz and Damien Henry, the famous time that employees of the Internet giant can use to work on whatever side projects they want. The tool was built to help developers prototype VR projects without having to invest too much in expensive hardware.
The low-cost do-it-yourself project comes with a special app dubbed Cardboard which is a hefty 188MB download. The app works on Android 4.1 and up and once installed, all you have to do is put the phone in the “device.” Once inside, you can close it up and the app will launch automatically thanks to an NFC tag built within the box.
You can now try it out. The lenses in the front will allow you to see various animations that move with the help of the sensors in your phone. This means that if you tilt your head, you’re going to be able to see the entire virtual environment.
Since a couple of magnets were mentioned in the components list, you should know that they are placed on the side of the box and work with the phone’s magnetometer, acting as buttons for clicking on various things within the app.
The Cardboard Android app comes prepacked with a series of demo apps, such as a 360-degree video viewer or one where you fly over our planet in Google Earth.
A VR Toolkit was made available by Google to help developers write their own apps. The hardware and software will remain open to encourage community participation and compatibility with VR content elsewhere.
If you weren’t one of the few thousand participants at the Google I/O, you don’t need to worry, because you can build your own Cardboard. The company has released full instructions on how to make one yourself, which is great for anyone looking to have a little bit of fun with this type of project.