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Google Cardboard Will Democratize Virtual Reality

Google Cardboard Will Democratize Virtual Reality

by P. H. MadoreDecember 20, 2014

Virtual Reality (VR) is all the rage, the next big expensive thing. Or it would have been, had Google not come along and made popular a lesser-known fact: that a VR headset doesn’t have to be all that fancy.

Also read: Facebook’s Oculus Rift is Going to Change Everything

Just as Google didn’t invent web search but rather “created a better mousetrap” as the analogy goes, the idea of a cardboard VR headset has been done before.

Why Is Virtual Reality Important?

Google Cardboard assembledThe earliest applications of Virtual reality were for the aeronautics industry, in training. For obvious reasons, it is more cost effective to invest a lot of money in hardware and software which provides the virtual experience of piloting a multi-million dollar piece of equipment than it is to risk the trainee actually doing so, or to expend the resources such as fuel in doing so. As such, the military, NASA, and airlines have been using VR for several decades now. Recent advances in the consumer market are sure to improve the technologies they are using. Improved training could mean less lost lives and less cost.

On the consumer side, virtual reality will contribute to education and entertainment in ways you’d expect. Navigating new cities will become easier with the Google Maps VR “look around” feature, which allows the user to plug in a street address, then move their head and look around the actual place they will be going.

What is Special About Google Cardboard?

There are some very expensive gadgets in this industry. The Oculus Rift headset development kit, aimed mostly at gamers, cost around $300, and was such a hot item that Chinese scalpers were buying them up and selling them for exorbitant rates, so much so that Oculus halted shipments to the region.

Google is entering the game with a low-cost, do-it-yourself alternative and software development support to match it means that disadvantaged people won’t be left out. All they’ll need is a low-cost smartphone and some of the VR-enabled apps, and they’ll have a similar experience.

Why is Google Doing it This Way?

In a recent Slashgear interview, Google Cardboard product manager Andrew Nartker said that adoption is paramount and that the technology is still in the experimental phases. In essence, the cheaper it is, the more likely there will be wider use and the more likely a market will develop which developers will see as indispensable in the development of new applications.

We think that the VR community of developers and makers deserves a lot of room for experimentation. We want to enable that. […] VR has had previous starts and stops as a technology, so we always want to make sure that it’s compelling for users. That said, apps for Cardboard are distributed through the Google Play Store, so we offer developers the option to monetize their work if they choose to.

Obviously, anything that promotes the Android environment will benefit Google financially in the long run, but in keeping with the spirit of “not being evil,” Google is approaching this new technology in a way that will make it easier for many groups to enter the market.

Images from Wikimedia Commons & Youtube.

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