At the end of Google's I/O 2014 keynote speech, Android senior vice president Sundar Pichai announced that everyone in attendance will receive a package for the Cardboard project, alongside the choice between a new LG G smartphone or a Samsung Gear Live smartwatch.
True to its name, the Cardboard project involves a do-it-yourself cardboard viewer. However, despite its obscure nature, Cardboard aims to provide users with a virtual reality experience.
Google Cardboard has a head-mounted housing unit that, through the accompanying Cardboard app for the project, transforms Android smartphones into a basic virtual reality headset.
"Virtual reality has made exciting progress over the past several years. However, developing for VR still requires expensive, specialized hardware. Thinking about how to make VR accessible to more people, a group of VR enthusiasts at Google experimented with using a smartphone to drive VR experiences," said Google at Cardboard's developer page.
The package that was distributed to the attendees of the I/O keynote speech included everything that is needed to create the virtual reality headset. The construction the headset uses several easy-to-find items that users can purchase at their local hardware, or perhaps may already have in their garage.
The materials required are corrugated cardboard sheets, lenses with a 40mm focal distance, a neodymium magnet, a ceramic disk magnet, two strips of velcro, a rubber band and an optional sticker NFC tag. Using a ruler, glue and a cutting tool such as scissors or an X-acto knife, users can create their own virtual reality headsets from the project's design files, following the simple-to-follow instructions.
Once the headset is done, users can fire up the Cardboard app. Things that can be done with Cardboard are currently limited, but include Earth, where users can fly along in Google Earth, Tour Guide, where users visit the city of Versailles, YouTube, where users can watch videos on a massive virtual reality screen, and Windy Day, where users can watch and interactive animated short film.
Google Cardboard also comes with an experimental virtual reality toolkit, with Google urging developers to create apps to work with Cardboard. Google provided tutorials and documentations for the SDK, which the company said will not receive as much support as core SDKs for Android due to its experimental status.
The Cardboard project began when two employees at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris created a cardboard smartphone housing as a virtual reality headset as part of a 20 percent project, wherein employees are allowed to work on side projects on top of their normal workflow.
Google's Cardboard project is nowhere near the sophistication and technology employed in the Oculus Rift virtual reality player, which Facebook acquired for $2 billion. However, the project shows Google's creativity in its approach to virtual reality.