Google Aims To Make Virtual Reality Ordinary With Cardboard

Google has always been known for trying to push the envelope when it comes to new technology, just like its bid to put driverless cars on the streets and its plan to bring the Internet to even the most remote places in the world via balloons. Now Google’s virtual reality kit, the Google Cardboard, is aiming to make virtual reality commonplace.

Described by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as the “next major computing and communication platform,” virtual reality is set to change the world. However, all VR devices that are currently being developed come with a hefty price tag. A developer kit for the Oculus Rift is priced at $350 while the Samsung/ Facebook collaboration Gear VR is pegged at around $99.

But Google doesn’t want virtual reality to be complex or costly, as not everyone can, or is willing, to shell out hundreds of dollars for that. Google’s answer to this VR dilemma is Google Cardboard.

What is it?

Google’s virtual reality kit is called Google Cardboard precisely because it’s made of, well, cardboard. Like a simple DIY project, the user has to fold and assemble the cardboard according to the corresponding instructions. The company doesn’t manufacture the cardboard viewers. Google developed the specs, and other companies make the viewers. Approved viewers are stamped with a Google Cardboard Badge and can be bought online for about $10.

How do you use Cardboard?

Google’s virtual reality kits are essentially folded cardboard with a pair of lenses, and assembling it depends on the model one chooses. For instance, in models like the I Am Cardboard viewer, one simply slides out the box, pulls down a side to unfold the viewer and secures it by pressing on a hook and looping the fasteners down. After that, one can just slide in an Android or iOS smartphone so the screen is against the hole, secure it and use by looking into the eyeholes.

What can virtual reality do for us?

Right now the hype about virtual reality revolves around the gaming systems, but the technology can do so much more, and companies are still in the process of figuring out how they can take advantage of it.

The New York Times is set to take a big step in virtual reality with the help of Google’s Cardboard viewer. Over 1 million of the newspaper’s print subscribers will be getting a free Google Cardboard kit with this weekend’s Sunday paper so that they can view the 3D documentary, “The Displaced.” This is the first collaborative effort of the Times and Google, and the short film “captures the resilience of three extraordinary children uprooted by war,” giving subscribers a look at what a child in the ongoing refugee crisis experiences. Another documentary is set to come out in December 2016 and will revolve around the process that goes into a New York Times cover photo.

Education is another area where VR technology can be utilized. The Mountain View-based company is already spearheading this movement by sending Google virtual reality kits to schools along with an app that lets students go on a 3D tour of Machu Picchu or a coral reef.

Some companies are using VR to enhance certain experiences. Users can see what swimming with sharks looks like with the Discovery VR app, while thrill seekers can enjoy flying at 425kph with the Air Racer VR. Film companies might soon be coming out with content that can be viewed thru VR kits like the Google Cardboard. An app for the thriller Insidious 3 is actually available now.

Despite its simplicity, the Google Cardboard can also be used for games like InMind, a short sci-fi game where one travels through a person’s brain to take out bad neurons.

The Google virtual reality kit is lightweight – literally and figuratively – when compared to other VR kits like the Oculus Rift. On the flipside, its simple design and material means that the kit will degrade eventually. The VR experience isn’t as immersive as one would hope for, and the Cardboard can’t be used for a long time because of the nausea factor. However, what it lacks in technical specs it surely makes up for in price. And while it might not give one the experience that high-end VR rigs can give, it does allow ordinary consumers the chance to experience and get used to a technology that will soon be ubiquitous in our daily lives.

[Image by Justin Sullivan, Getty Images]