March 6, 2015

Cardboard: Google Maps and Local Business Revolution

Google Cardboard VR Headset

By Lewis J.

In 1935, American writer Stanley G. Weinbaum published "Pygmalion's Spectacles" in Wonder, a science fiction magazine. The eponymous spectacles projected holographic images so real wearers believed they’ve been transported to another world. Eighty years later, what was once fiction is now reality. Behold Google Cardboard!  

What is Google Cardboard?

Google Cardboard is a virtual reality headset essentially made from a cardboard box. It arrives as a kit that users assemble by hand, like a banker’s box. Your strap your smartphone into the front of the box and use it to view 3D images. It was dreamt up by a group of Google developers during Google’s 20 percent project, which reserves time for employees to pursue personal projects during office hours.

How Does it Work?

Users place their phone in the front flap and fold it up. The Velcro straps on top hold the phone in place. The 3D effect is created by the Cardboard App, which creates two images on the screen. The two 40mm focal distance lenses embedded in the set refocus the images and create the 3D effect. The kits have a NFC (Near Field Communication) chip. They automatically devices within their range of use. The chip in Cardboard activates the app when you place your phone in the set. The magnet on the side is a button. It interacts with your phone’s magnetometer so you can manipulate the screen without removing the headset. There’s no strap, so you have to hold it to your face while you’re using it. The best part is the price: $20 vs. $350 for the Oculus Rift.


What Can I Do With It?

Cardboard is fully immersive. The images move and change when viewers move their heads. Apps for Google Cardboard are still being developed, so we’ve only seen a fraction of what it’s capable of.

What it has done is revolutionize Google Maps. You probably already know that Google captures a 360-degree image for Google Street View. In cardboard, those images are transformed into a fully 3D environment. When you activate it, you’re dropped right into the image. The technology is still limited. You can’t walk around in Street View, just pan your head, but the potential is there. How might our perception of “local” change when we can walk the streets before we visit them? Hard to find shops could become more visible. Customers could take virtual tours of neighborhood shops. Hotels could let guests preview rooms before booking them. Restaurants could show customers the view from their table before they sit down. The mind boggles.

Cardboard’s business possibilities are even more exciting. Its simple design makes it easy for companies to present their products and connect with customers in a whole new way. Volvo has already developed an app that lets users test drive their latest vehicles and Elle Magazine has created a virtual behind the scenes tour of a fashion shoot. 

Gamers should also check out Lamper, a runner game where you guide an insect through a series of hazardous tunnels, or Vanguard V, a 3rd person rail shooter. You can also watch performances by Paul McCartney and Jack White in stereoscopic 3D or take a guided tour of the universe with Titans of Space.

How Do I Get One?

You can get Google Cardboard by ordering a kit from one of Google’s manufacturers, or build one yourself with a few simple items from your hardware store. The instructions can be downloaded for free from Google’s website. You’ll need some cardboard, some Velcro, two lenses, a magnet, and a rubber band. A few people have already found some fun ways to replicate the design.

What do you think? Is Google Cardboard the next stage in virtual reality? Leave a comment and let us know.

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