Google Cardboard and Virtual Reality

Our discussion of augmented reality and virtual reality in class reminded me of a Google product called Google Cardboard. Before I begin to describe what Cardboard is, I feel that it is necessary to differentiate between augmented and virtual reality. Augmented reality, also known as AR, is a live and direct view of the real-world environment that is supplemented with data from a computer. In other words, it is what you see plus other computer-generated images, sounds, or videos. On the other hand, virtual reality (VR) is a replacement for the real world. It creates a simulation of a specific environment, hence why it is referred to as a virtual environment. Google Cardboard offers primarily a virtual reality experience.

When I first heard about Google Cardboard I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. Little did I know that it was actually a legitimate product from Google. In essence, it is a cardboard mount for your smartphone that has a magnet, lenses, and a rubber band that goes around your head. The cell phone is placed in the cardboard mount and using stereoscopic display software and the lenses, a person sees images as a single 3D image.

This is what it looks like:

google cardboard

You can build your own if you are feeling adventurous and there are also kits sold online.

In order to display the stereoscopic images, the app WebGL must be downloaded on smartphones. In addition, Cardboard has an NFC chip so it knows when the cell phone is being used in VR mode. You may also be asking yourself how these images and virtual realities are created in the first place. Google has created an open software toolkit that allows users to write VR software. Thousands of people have been writing code and creating their own virtual realities to share with the world. The Google Play store has a bunch of 3D-ready applications that are meant to work with Cardboard. Who knew that such a simple piece of cardboard could turn your phone into a virtual reality headset?

Why Google Cardboard and Virtual Reality is Significant

Virtual reality seems like it will be heavily focused on in the future. Google Cardboard opens opportunities to virtually tour cities, visit museums, and allows for a more immersive experience. VR is greatly used in urban design and the manufacturing of new products. Cardboard is a major game changer in the VR field because it is affordable, easily accessible, and encourages the development of virtual reality. Imagine touring Pompeii by using Cardboard; it completely changes the way we see and experience things without actually being there. Or say you are a history teacher and want to take your students to a historic site. The possibilities are endless.

 Google Cardboard CanyonImagine seeing this canyon through Cardboard and the utilization of Google Earth.

Personally, I am excited to see how virtual reality will affect video games. Cardboard can be used for gaming, but it is not the best option. The Oculus Rift is currently being developed as a VR head-mounted display that will be used for video games. If you were to couple the Rift with a haptic suit you would get a tremendous experience. I cannot wait to see where Virtual Reality will take us. Who knows, maybe in 100 years we will have the capability to connect a cable to our mind that would cause our mind to think that we are somewhere else.

Hopefully companies will learn from Cardboard and begin the push for VR. Google Cardboard is certainly neat and a step in the right direction for virtual reality. I am even tempted to build one myself and see what I can do with it.

I am interested in hearing what the class thinks about virtual reality. Are you a fan of it? Is it the future or will it further decrease human interaction? Those are just some of the many questions to consider when discussing virtual reality.

-Nik Nakov

See Cardboard in action in the videos below:

  1. Demo:
  1. Cardboard gaming:
  1. Augmented reality with cardboard (really neat modification):
  1. Cool apps that work with Cardboard:
  1. People trying out Cardboard for the first time:

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