The latest slew of virtual reality job postings from Google suggests the company is working on dedicated consumer VR hardware that will be manufactured at large scale.

For some time now it’s been clear that Google is excited about virtual reality. The company’s ‘Cardboard‘ initiative has put low cost smartphone VR viewers into the hands of millions, and begun to introduce the Android ecosystem as a place to find entry-level VR experiences.

google-io-cardboard

But the current state of Cardboard virtual reality is substantially lacking compared to the leading mobile experience pioneered by Samsung’s Gear VR headset. Gear VR sets the bar with a combination of the headset—which features on-board hardware to improve performance—as well as custom software-side development which unlocks the full power of the hardware found in Samsung’s Gear VR compatible phones.

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See Also: Google Launches ‘Works With Google Cardboard’ Certification for VR Smartphone Adapters

The difference between Gear VR and the stock Android VR experience is stark, but it likely won’t remain that way for long. Google has every incentive to leverage their Android ecosystem to be the go-to place for virtual reality, establishing themselves before Apple jumps into the ring.

A new series of virtual reality job postings from Google suggests that the company is working on consumer virtual reality hardware that goes beyond a simple smartphone VR viewer. Posted over the last several days, the full-time listings for work at the company’s Mountain View, CA headquarters seek candidates who can design and deliver consumer VR hardware. Explore each listing using the drop-down lists below, I’ve emboldened parts of the listings describing work with consumer electronics manufacturing:

Google's Latest Virtual Reality

Hardware Engineering Technical Lead Manager, Virtual Reality

Google engineers develop the next-generation technologies that change how users connect, explore, and interact with information and one another. As a member of an extraordinarily creative, motivated and talented team, you develop new products that are used by millions of people. We need our engineers to be versatile and passionate to tackle new problems as we continue to push technology forward. If you get excited about building new things and aren’t daunted by the challenge of building something from scratch, then our team might be your next career step.

Our consumer hardware team is working on revolutionizing how people interact with their hardware, and looking for engineers to make that a reality. We want to open new ways to interact with devices and create a natural, seamless interface the world’s information.

As the Hardware Engineering Technical Lead Manager for the consumer hardware products, you will drive the design and execution of our ever increasing product portfolio. You will be responsible for the building multiple CE devices and will put together the right team that will scale with our product offering.

Responsibilities

  • Define architecture, specification, design and test boards for innovative consumer electronic (CE) devices. Lead board design and bring-up, with a focus on low power and efficient thermal solutions.
  • Lead overall engineering system integration of high-performance, battery powered, highly constrained consumer electronics products.
  • Design for volume manufacturing at lowest cost, and quickly iterate on an ideas, prototype, test, refine cycle.
  • Create assembly architectures to integrate mechanical, electrical, design and manufacturing requirements.
  • Drive optimized mechanical designs for quality and manufacturability, and work closely with external resources and suppliers to drive on-­time delivery of quality parts/components.

Minimum qualifications

  • BS degree in Electrical Engineering or equivalent practical experience.
  • 4 years of experience managing engineering teams.
  • Experience in the design and development of high speed digital and/or analog boards and systems.

Preferred qualifications

  • 7 years of experience with hardware development, high speed board design, board bring-up experience, devices and interconnects.
  • Proven experience building and shipping complex CE products.
  • Experience with factory process and manufacturing.
  • Experience with high volume, highly cosmetic electronics enclosure materials and integrating.
  • Experience managing managers.

Job Link

Engineering Project Specialist, Virtual Reality

Google engineers develop the next-generation technologies that change how users connect, explore, and interact with information and one another. As a member of an extraordinarily creative, motivated and talented team, you develop new products that are used by millions of people. We need our engineers to be versatile and passionate to tackle new problems as we continue to push technology forward. If you get excited about building new things and aren’t daunted by the challenge of building something from scratch, then our team might be your next career step.

As an Engineering Project Specialist on a Consumer Hardware team, you will be a key member of the engineering team partnering with Google’s Product and Engineering Program Management to bring new hardware products to production. You will play a key role in ensuring that engineering requirements are captured and built into configurations throughout development. You will thrive in the fast-paced and time sensitive environment of new hardware development and will offer flexibility and organization within the chaos.

Responsibilities

  • Support hardware development builds. International travel required.
  • Manage the product Build Matrix (system configuration decoder); manage material procurement and CTB (Clear to Build), tracking engineering parallel paths and investigations, and product configurations.
  • Lead weekly build readiness meeting with Contract Manufacturing team. Manage product labeling and build documentation.
  • Maintain product allocation database and work with Contract Manufacturing, Logistics and Distribution teams to ensure timely distribution to all product groups.
  • Facilitate part number creation and communication with internal and Contract Manufacturing teams. Be responsible for development Purchase Order (PO) creation, communication with Google and CM finance teams, invoice review and final invoice approval.

Minimum qualifications

  • BA/BS degree or equivalent practical experience.
  • 2 years of experience in new hardware development.
  • 2 years of experience in Consumer Hardware.

Preferred qualifications

  • Understanding of hardware BOM structures and change control concepts; experience with PDM/PLM tools (e.g. Agile).
  • Familiar with hardware development and manufacturing processes, vendor relations and working with Contract Manufacturers (CM) in Asia.
  • Proven ability to work and thrive in a fast paced and time sensitive environment. Excellent multitasking abilities; should be able to effectively prioritize when working on multiple tasks/projects.
  • Excellent organizational skills and an ability to manage complex spreadsheets and coordinate across cross functional team and job functions.
  • Excellent written and oral communication, analytical and interpersonal skills.

Job Link

Electrical Hardware Engineer, Virtual Reality

Google engineers develop the next-generation technologies that change how users connect, explore, and interact with information and one another. As a member of an extraordinarily creative, motivated and talented team, you develop new products that are used by millions of people. We need our engineers to be versatile and passionate to tackle new problems as we continue to push technology forward. If you get excited about building new things and aren’t daunted by the challenge of building something from scratch, then our team might be your next career step.

Responsibilities

  • Lead electrical hardware development for consumer electronic products from concept into production.
  • Specify and optimize electrical architecture for features, cost and manufacturability.
  • Create electrical schematics, oversee circuit board layout and lead electrical design reviews.
  • Represent program electrical engineering in meetings with the cross-functional engineering teams.
  • Provide leadership on documentation, tools and processes.

Minimum qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, or related field or equivalent practical experience.
  • 5 years of experience in electrical or systems engineering for consumer products.
  • Experience with designing and debugging electrical circuit boards.

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, or related discipline.
  • Experience with wireless communication interfaces and sensors.
  • Experience supporting high-volume overseas manufacturing builds.
  • Detailed knowledge of electrical engineering theory and practical applications.
  • Ability to write drivers and firmware in C.
  • Ability to mentor junior engineers in hardware development.

Job Link

PCB Layout Engineer, Virtual Reality

Google engineers develop the next-generation technologies that change how users connect, explore, and interact with information and one another. As a member of an extraordinarily creative, motivated and talented team, you develop new products that are used by millions of people. We need our engineers to be versatile and passionate to tackle new problems as we continue to push technology forward. If you get excited about building new things and aren’t daunted by the challenge of building something from scratch, then our team might be your next career step.

Google custom-designs hardware for consumer electronics applications. The Hardware Engineering team ensures that this cutting-edge devices are reliable and robust. As a CAD/PCB Layout Engineer on the hardware team, you will be working on fast-paced boards for consumer devices. You will work with Hardware Designers and Mechanical Engineers throughout the full product development life-cycle, supporting PCB outline, component placement and routing. You will work as an integral part of the Systems Hardware Development team, interfacing with external fabricators or vendors to apply state of the art industry standards, tools and technologies.

Responsibilities

  • Participate in part footprint creation in conjunction with PCB Librarian.
  • Outline PCB and layer setup; component placement and signal routing.
  • Interface with board fabrication vendor to select and use correct impedance rules, Design for Manufacturing (DFM) and Design for Test (DFT) rulesets.
  • Work with hardware engineers, PCB designers and fabricators for development and sustaining of actual products.

Minimum qualifications

  • BS degree in Electronics or equivalent practical experience.
  • 5 years of Computer-aided Design (CAD) or Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design experience.

Preferred qualifications

  • MS degree in Electrical Engineering, with strong emphasis on electronics circuit and embedded system design.
  • Experience with mechanical design, state of the art PCB design tools, and methodology.
  • Experience with Cadence and Allegro tools. Proficient with high-speed board designs or layouts; familiar with high density ball-grid array’s (BGA), blind and buried via’s.
  • Familiarity with all phases of hardware development including: schematic entry, manually generated constraints, requirements of the constraints and board layout.
  • A self-starter and highly motivated with strong organizational skills; excellent verbal and written communication skills.

Job Link

Slightly older VR job openings from Google include Advanced Rendering Engineer, Interaction Designer, Motion Designer, and others on the software side which could certainly support a dedicated VR device from Google.

These new VR job listings come just as we see Clay Bavor drop other duties with the company to become Google’s VP of Virtual Reality. Among a number of former hires, possibly numbering around 20 at this point (not counting folks that Google may have tapped internally to fill VR positions), the company is currently listing 17 full-time job openings specific to virtual reality.

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See Also: Apple’s Latest VR Hire is Top Researcher Doug Bowman

So where is this all heading? One thought is a mobile VR headset from Google under the company’s ‘Nexus‘ brand, which typically collaborates with top-tier mobile phone manufacturers to produce flagship hardware. If this is the case, we haven’t spotted any hints as to whether Google might be pursuing an all-in-one mobile VR headset, or one that docks with a phone (like Gear VR) though we would suspect the latter as it would seem to jive better with the company’s broader mobile ecosystem.

Dedicated VR consumer hardware would be a first for the company. So far Google has approached the space as an enabler—rather than provider—of virtual reality; despite ceding millions of Cardboard VR viewers into the hands of consumers, the company hasn’t actually sold a single Cardboard unit of their own, instead opting to give them away for free at events and allowing third-parties to use the open source design to build and sell their own versions. Similarly, the company’s ‘Jump’ VR camera rig is a specification for creating an array of GoPro cameras suitable for 360 degree capture, rather than hardware in and of itself.

  • AW

    No mention of Magic Leap. Surely Google will seek to license this as their platform going forward. Perhaps reading the job posting as interface/CE peripheral design makes more sense?

    • Bob

      Magic Leap is their long-term goal and their main flagship research project for groundbreaking new technology (Consumer device). Their interest in VR is to capitalize on their Google Cardboard success and potentially take this new industry by storm through the mobile devices channel since so many people are well aware of it. Why not make another move when the opportunity is there?

      • AW

        I think you could be right in the short term, that further VR development might make sense for Google. These job listings certainly point to inexpensive, mass produced, mobile CE devices. A lot depends on the Magic Leap production timeline, and we know they are in pre-production at the former Motorola facility in Plantation FL. My (optimistic) feeling is that they are close, and Google is preparing for it’s introduction, and that they won’t invest further in VR because ML is full spectrum mixed reality (and this makes VR and AR obsolete already).

        • http://www.digitalbodies.net Emory Craig

          I’m not so sure mixed reality makes AR and VR obsolete. It’s definitely a game-changer, and will probably take most of the market, but it is very different from VR. A great deal of New Media will still want a full VR experience (blocking out the outside world entirely) from gaming to Cinema. But I hope your optimism is right on the ML production – it will be amazing.

          • AW

            The mixed reality description of the ML device was from Rony Abovitz himself, and was his way of describing the ML experience as full-spectrum; fully isolated VR to open AR. From the sparse details available, it appears the transparent ML lens has a LCD component that is used to selectively occlude the area behind any graphical elements in your FOV, this blocks light from ghosting out the images, making them appear more solid. So this logically allows the ML to be fully VR! Mind=Blown

          • http://www.digitalbodies.net Emory Craig

            Didn’t see that from Abovitz. Having the ability to occlude the external environment does the trick for cinema and games. Mind blown, indeed.

      • AW

        I think you could be right in the short term, that further VR development might make sense for Google. These job listings certainly point to inexpensive, mass produced, mobile CE devices. A lot depends on the Magic Leap production timeline, and we know they are in pre-production at the former Motorola facility in Plantation FL. My (optimistic) feeling is that they are close, and Google is preparing for it’s introduction, and that they won’t invest further in VR because ML is full spectrum mixed reality (and this makes VR and AR obsolete already).

  • DonGateley

    To me this all speaks to a dedicated device, not a phone based hack like the Gear VR. Maybe using a phone for display and little else.

    • care package

      Not sure what the difference is between:
      “dedicated device that maybe uses a phone for it’s display” and
      “phone based hack like the Gear VR (device)”

      • DonGateley

        The difference is where the computation is done. Google will do it with specialized hardware. Samsung/Oculus/Facebook does it with what’s in the phone on the GearVR.

        Getting the requisite frame rate out of any phone will require some really special purpose bit pushing hardware, though, which also speaks to a fully dedicated device, not a phone hack.

        • kalqlate

          Also, as I understand things, the Gear VR unit has higher fidelity motion sensors that override those of the inserted phone. Sounds pretty much like what you’re anticipating with the new Google device.

          • DonGateley

            That’s actually what I expect. The details of those job postings indicate to me a deeper level of technology development than a Gear VR type effort. While it may be one of their offerings a phone display won’t take them to the next level in display resolution. I think they will take something from their investment in Magic Leap and produce a full on competitor to the likes of the Oculus Rift. i,e, a Facebook level investment.

          • kalqlate

            It would be great if they’d apply some newfangled Magic-Leap-engineered light-field tech to VR, but I imagine it’s doubtful as a first product where the focus is on flat, phone-type screens whether a dedicated or phone-based device–if the idea is to be a “full on competitor to the likes of the Oculus Rift”.

          • DonGateley

            I don’t think you can compete at this late stage by producing a “Google Rift.” It has to be much more than that to overcome the lead Facebook has if only with respect to the content for it.

          • kalqlate

            They don’t have to own the market; just not fall too far behind. Actually, it’ll be quite easy at this early stage, particularly in the mobile Android VR arena where Gear VR only works with select Samsung phones. All that Google needs to do is release a phone spec for high-end Android VR to ensure that high-end phones from all manufacturers are compatible with the upcoming high-end mobile Android VR headset–a potential clear winner vs Gear VR..

          • DonGateley

            And I definitely hope they do that and hope the lead time isn’t too much of a factor. The Samsung/Oculus/Facebook walled garden of content for Gear VR annoys the hell out of me and I’d love to see Google compete there within a more open Google Play.

            And, as you say, there is room here for a couple of levels of product, at least.

            As I see it, there will have to be a major breakthrough in image quality (display resolution or whatever) before this can reach other than a niche market. I’m really happy to see Google playing in the sandbox in as big a way as these job openings indicate. I just have a feeling about a hardware collaboration with Magic Leap that could bring that breakthrough.

          • kalqlate

            Agreed! I would wish for 2k and 4k screens given that the spec includes newer CPUs and GPUs capable of 4k throughput for the same content that pushes the limits at 2k. Magic Leap light-field tech would be nice icing.

          • user

            i bet its an hmd for project tango phones

          • kalqlate

            Project tango is for mapping and navigating real environments. Imagine strapping a Project Tango phone to your head. To function as an HMD, the phone display would be in front of your eyes, obscuring your view of the environment, thus defeating the purpose of Project Tango. Surely though, I can see the Project Tango mapping elements put in a headset similar to HoloLens for AR.

          • user

            AR games are an important function for tango.
            Why do you need to see the environment directly if its on the screen of the phone

          • kalqlate

            Because real-life is ULTRA high-definition. AR is best when information is mapped onto real-life. What you describe is certainly possible, and it would allow for a hybrid AR/VR device. However, to allow for even rudimentary focus, you would have to include eye-trackers inside the HMD. Also, doing relatively low-res passthru video of the real-life environment and combining it with AR elements cheapens the AR experience. High-quality AR is meant to project AR elements onto the real world, thus the term Augmented Reality.

          • user

            So youre saying that project tango is crap because – whether you use an hmd or not – you dont look at reality but at a screen. Ok, i get that.

          • kalqlate

            No. Project Tango is technological wonder.

            The problem is with how you are conceiving how AR is done.

            AR is not done on full screens in front of the eyes.

            In 99.99 percent of AR HMD implementations, in front of each eye is a small, transparent display. (In the case of Google Glass, only one eye has a display.) ONLY the AR graphic elements are mirrored off of that display into the eye(s). Around and through the transparent display is seen the real-world environment.

            Project Tango is for environment mapping. The 3D mapping data is what allows the AR software to know where to project the AR elements in the 3D environment.

            Project Tango has nothing to do with the displays. It’s function is to get depth and maybe some object and texture information from the environment.

            You can use project tango on phones and tablets, but you do not then put the phone or tablet on your face. You hold them at arms length. You get like a small AR window the size of your phone or tablet as you move it USING your ARMS, HANDS, and BODY about the environment. With HMD AR, you move the gaze of your HEAD and EYES about the environment while your arms, hands, and body are free to move and actuate as they normally would without AR.

            Project Tango on an HMD would look very much like the environment capture elements of Microsoft’s HoloLens: http://cdn.mg.co.za/crop/content/images/2015/05/05/hololensgadget_landscape.jpg/676×380/.

          • user

            your reasoning doesnt convince me. i guess, we will see.

            edit: i googled it. maybe read for yourself:

            http://vrfocus.com/archives/15835/google-project-tangos-6-doff-tracking-is-interesting-for-vr/

          • kalqlate

            I updated the tail end of my post. While you were typing yours. Read it, and maybe it will shed more light for you.

          • user

            “The interesting thing about Cardboard is, the smartphones weren’t built for VR,” says Bavor. “With the exception of a few, they were all designed and built before Cardboard existed. So there’s no thought about how you could optimize a smartphone to make it great not only as a smartphone, but also as the core of a VR device.”

            so, obviously they will make phones that are optimized for vr. with special chips for better 3d rendering etc. for those socs they will use movidius tech. and why wouldnt they also use project tango in those phones. they will start with a device for project tango PHONES because people are already willing to pay a couple hundred dollars for phones.

          • kalqlate

            Read your first paragraph again. Now, consider that Samsung Gear VR is such an optimized smartphone/VR HMD. Where, oh where, are the Project Tango-like bits? It has none. Why? Because it needs none, and having such would do very little to make it better for its intended function–VR.

            There’s a reason why Google implemented Project Tango initially on a tablet for AR and navigation, will next miniaturize it for phones for the same, then implement it in a HMD for hands-free AR: Project Tango is for REAL-WORLD ENVIRONMENT MAPPING and object recognition to enhance what’s possible with AR. VR is for transporting the wearer to VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS that most often have absolutely nothing to do with the real world.

            Note that the camera on the Vive Pre is for giving the wearer greater awareness of boundaries and obstacles in the real world for better safety. Sure, it’s possible with greater environment information mapped in, some VR apps COULD incorporate elements of the real world into the virtual world, such VR apps will be enormously more complicated than VR apps that deal with only the made-up virtual worlds that the VR app developers have complete control over.

            Microsoft HoloLens has already shown that the high-fidelity way to incorporate the real world into an app is by mapping augmented elements onto the real world you are actually in. Not the other way around of mapping the real world into a virtual world. Take a look at how the HoloLens AR HMD incorporates similar Project Tango bits: http://cdn.mg.co.za/crop/content/images/2015/05/05/hololensgadget_landscape.jpg/676×380/.

            Another great use for Project Tango is for NON-REALTIME capture of real-world environments and objects for later polish and insertion into VR, but again, NON-REALTIME.

            Please read this article: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-09/07/google-project-tango-hands-on.

            As I said before, “the problem is with how you are conceiving how AR is done,” and seem to be missing the difference between AUGMENTED reality and VIRTUAL reality.

          • user

            why would samsung gear vr be an optimized smartphone / vr hmd? it is not – at least not in the way bavor meant it.
            im not sure why you try to tell me what project tango or augmented reality is.
            i guess its better to end this here.

          • kalqlate

            Because you placed your bet, “i bet its an hmd for project tango phones,” and I don’t want you to lose your money. :D

          • kalqlate

            By the way, there’s a much bigger reason why Google made their first foray into phone-based VR a free design that others could sell: Back in 2008, when very few even had a hint that phone-based VR could be a thing, Apple filed a patent for it. The patent was granted February 2015: http://www.roadtovr.com/apple-granted-patent-gear-vr-like-mobile-vr-headset-broad-ramifications-possible-mobile-headsets/.

            You can trust Apple will go after only the big players, like Samsung, seeking to profit from sales of phone-based VR, unless Gear VR was included in settlements between the two. It’s almost certain that Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and any other large company looking to pursue phone-based VR as a for-profit product will owe licensing fees to Apple. Google will probably create a design spec for high-end phone-based VR for other Android manufacturers to follow, but I doubt seriously that they will build their own for-profit product based off of that spec. Google may go the Oculus Rift route but make it wireless. However, Apple has a patent on that as well (mentioned at the bottom of the article I linked above).

          • kalqlate

            Come to think of it, retrofitting an AR device for VR may not be so difficult. An attachable/detachable sheild that occludes human vision of the environment yet leaves all environment scanning and measuring bits exposed might be retrofit enough. Such a device would then be able to do AR with sheild detached or compledely isolate VR (for a standard VR experience) or combine VR with knowledge of the external environment ala Vive with sheild attached..

            Rather than after-the-fact retrofit, to be successful, such a device would have to be designed from the start with intention for AR and VR. As we know from HoloLens and Rift/Vive comparisons, low-latency displays are very critical for VR, but not so much for AR. In the opposite direction, accurate depth-mapping of the external environment is critical for AR, but not so much for VR.

            The buzz surrounding the Magic Leap device includes vague impressions that it will be capable of AR and VR, but I’m not so sure by the detachable-occluding-shield method that I describe above. Regardless, if it supports both, then that would take care of the dedicated PC and possible dedicated wireless device. However, naturally, phone-based VR would still use phone screens, so lightfield technology would not be employed here.

            As with most, I share your enthusiasm. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how things develop through to 2020. By then AR and VR will be in their third, maybe even forth, iterations. Along with AI-infused everything, what phenomenal transformations our lives will undergo in four short years. It boggles the mind to contemplate 2030, 2050 and beyond.

          • AW

            I agree, and Google is more of a “moon shot” company (which is the exact language Magic Leap is using about their product). Add to the mix Project Soli, and you have all the components for a portable, mixed reality, light field projection device. Looking through available ML literature shows a need for peripheral “totems” as companion pieces for mixed reality experiences; it’s baked in as a core UX concept. These Google job postings seem to fit these needs. Exciting times either way!

        • care package

          Still doesnt compute. You sayin they’ll design a headset that bears the cpu burden yet uses a phone for the display?

    • brandon9271

      Let’s just hope it isn’t another GearVR. That would be a huge disappointment.

  • Bob

    The more competition in the field the better! Imagine how the other companies will react to this now that the “big boys” (Apple, Google) have serious interest in Virtual Reality systems. Oculus Research are probably well aware of this and are now working even harder to pump out cutting edge technology in VR – they know it’s extremely important to stay above the rest; same goes for Sony and HTC/Valve. Not to mention you have the Open Source VR project from Razer cooking up on the side. Second generation VR is looking to be extraordinarily interesting. Competition breeds perfection!