google cardboard io 2014

At this week’s Google IO 2014, the company’s annual developer conference, the search giant is handing out ‘Cardboard’, a low-cost VR headset adapter for smartphones. The company is also making freely available an open ‘VR Toolkit’ and SDK to enable developers to build consistent virtual reality experiences for Android.

box of cardboard google io 2014
Google is handing out hundreds, if not thousands of Cardboard VR smartphone adapter kits today at Google IO 2014. Photo courtesy Zachary Yaro

Google is throwing its hat into the VR ring with a project that appears to be designed to bolster and bring structure to the world of VR content on Android. Right now there are a bevy of VR smartphone adapters, which have to adapt to a wide range of potential phones, along with a mess content that may or may not work for a given hardware combination.

Cardboard, which the company appears to have handed out to thousands of Google IO attendees today, is a low-cost VR smartphone adapter that’s literally made out of cardboard. “We want everyone to experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and inexpensive way. That’s the goal of the Cardboard project,” Google writes on the project’s website.

cardboard virtual reality google io 2014

In addition to the Cardboard kit, Google has simple plans for anyone to construct their own DIY Cardboard VR smartphone adapter. The company has launched an Android app which includes several experiences to inspire developers to create content using their newly released VR Toolkit. The Cardboard app includes the following demos:

  • Earth: Fly where your fancy takes you on Google Earth.
  • Tour Guide: Visit Versailles with a local guide.
  • YouTube: Watch popular YouTube videos on a massive screen.
  • Exhibit: Examine cultural artifacts from every angle.
  • Photo Sphere: Look around the photo spheres you’ve captured.
  • Street Vue: Drive through Paris on a summer day.
  • Windy Day: Follow the story (and the hat) in this interactive animated short from Spotlight Stories.
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cardboard google io 2014
Evan Rapoport, Product Manager on Google Maps for Views, Photo Sphere, Panoramio, and Street View, holds an assembled Cardboard VR smartphone adapter at Google IO 2014.

The VR Toolkit is an open-source SDK which Google says ” makes writing VR software as simple as building a web or mobile app.”

The VR Toolkit enables developers familiar with OpenGL to quickly start creating VR applications. The toolkit simplifies many common VR development tasks, including:

Lens distortion correction.

  • Head tracking
  • 3D calibration
  • Side-by-side rendering
  • Stereo geometry configuration
  • User input event handling

This story is breaking, more info to come. Google will be holding a talk about VR on Android called ‘Field of View’ tomorrow at 10am PST, though there is no stream available.

Motion sensors on smartphones can be used to create amazing user experiences, such as 360 degree viewing of content (Spotlight Stories, StreetView panoramas, Photo spheres, etc.) or intuitive panoramic image capture. In this session, we demonstrate a range of interesting new experiences and give a deep dive into the underlying technical principles. We discuss sensor fusion on Android, creation and rendering of content, and user interaction fundamentals.

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  • sponge101

    I can see the headlines now, “Google, the billions in profit company, enters the vr market with– ‘cardboard.'” Not sure if Goggle is trying to make a statement about vr in general or this is some sort of publicity stunt. Regardless, I’m sure DK2 preorders must be kicking themselves with their purchase right about now.

    Joking aside, this could be a signal from Google on their intent/interest at entering the vr market. They must see the potential of vr in terms of how it can connect with Google’s other services and how it can benefit their users– Facebook $2 billion purchase of Oculus probably had something to do with it as well.

  • Jacob Pederson

    Is anybody else worried that with all these phone based headsets, folks are going to be made horribly ill due to horrific latency, terrible frame rate, and zero IPD calibration! After an experience like that, they’ll likely swear off VR for life.

    • Benny C

      Yeah I’ve got the same concern as Jacob. A mobile phone insert may be great one day if they can continue to Bridge the gap between Mobile devices and a PC’s frame rendering power. But at Oculus’s price point, I don’t see the need to compromise the first impression for most people out there.

      • noxylophone

        I think that the key here is simplicity.

        Let’s face it, mobile VR is going to be a thing—plenty of companies are working on it, and it’s a natural extension of mobile computing in general.

        Think of this kit as a mobile VR dandelion seed. It’s cheap as hell, and will only support primitive VR experiences, but it gets the basic shell of a mobile VR device out to pretty much anyone who wants one. Combined with the devkit, this is Google’s play to get people to start experimenting with proof-of-concept ideas for mobile VR applications.

        I think it’s a brilliant counter-play to Oculus in a lot of ways—It’s guerrilla VR.

  • Simon

    You have to remember that Google/Android isn’t just in the phone market. They are probably looking for this API to provide a layer for app developers to start making content, and then providing some “real” hardware which would plug into the phone/tablet/chrome-book.

    Most new phones are coming with some form of “video output”, and are getting more powerful (computation wise) at an alarming rate.

    The API seems to be a good start, although I’m not knowledgable enough to know if it covers all required parameters.

  • Faxvoice Romulator

    by giving someone cardboard they wont have the highest expectations already. but they’ll still get to fiddle with something and it might get more interest going. they can then decide if they want to spend more on a legit dedicated ‘rig’ when they are available. it also gets more programmers thinking about vr and experimenting with it.

    sure, vr is it’s own horse (hard and soft) and the key people know that, but if all the mobile platforms have something like this, it will birng more and more developers to start thinking about vr options and playing with design. an ideal situation for when standardized rigs hit.

  • sponge101

    What if it rains?

  • Gorge

    Anybody considered what this could mean in combination with project tango?

  • Don Gateley

    If you happen to have a Nexus 7, the Yay3d VR Viewer is compatible with the Cardboard app and most likely what is to come in that domain. In lieu of select with magnet you can just double touch the screen anywhere which is easy with the Yay3d because it is open frame. Use a stylus to avoid smudges.