What Happens When Google Innovates Cardboard

With virtual reality exploding in popularity and the high costs of those available, Google has developed a proof of concept of goggles that could be available to anyone.

Joseph Grosjean, Editor of Photography

Virtual reality (VR) will eventually give us the ability to seemingly step inside of your favorite game and get a fully immersive experience. Most have heard of the popular headset Oculus Rift and have watched videos of popular YouTuber PewDiePie play various games with this system. His videos of this headset are not only humorous, especially when playing horror games, but also show how immersive these systems really are. With past projected costs for Oculus Rift being $1,500 (current quotes are $350, which is far more affordable), many companies have been searching for a more affordable way to get this technology.

Samsung has come up with possibly the simplest solution for many: using a smartphone as the display device. With the addition of new technology in our smartphones such as gyroscopes, accelerometers, high-resolution screens, and high-processing power, it has been made possible to make a very low cost headset. Samsung has ran with this idea and has begun developing a sort of “shell” to hold a smartphone, and includes magnification lenses that expand the field of view and make the overall experience more immersive.

Oculus Rift and Samsung were both debuting their systems at the 2014 technology fair, I/O, and Google began handing out their system for VR on a budget. The concept involved using a smartphone for the screen and a cardboard headset. The system folds together and you simply place your cell phone in the front after starting the “Google Cardboard” app.

The app varies from iOS to Android but the basic app includes Google Earth, 360o YouTube Videos, and an animation. I personally have gotten my hands on an AT&T Google Cardboard at the 2015 National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC). At that point, I already knew about Google Cardboard and was given an exposure to it by a friend. The next day I grabbed one and downloaded the app and was blown away by the immersion, especially with Google Earth (the app comes with the entire application) and the ability to explore the world including walking down trails in the Grand Canyon. YouTube videos that have been recorded in 360o are especially cool to watch because you can look around the room and feel like you are really there. This is even more impressive when you once again realize that it is only a cell phone and cardboard.

After using it, I found some flaws, the biggest of which is that you have to hold the goggles and there is a lot of light leaking (light from your surroundings getting into the system) which causes glare. To solve these problems, I added a head strap and foam to the goggles, and now the system works great.

In addition to the Google Cardboard App, many developers have begun making their own apps. My favorite is “Vanguard V,” which puts you in space in a third person view, flying through asteroid belts while shooting “parasites” and dodging space debris. You control your character by looking around, and it is very immersive.

Overall, Google Cardboard is an incredible innovation to get VR available to the masses.