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On the Significance of Google's New Cardboard (Video) 35

Posted by Roblimo
from the recycling-a-post-title-is-good-for-the-environment dept.
On June 29, 2014, Timothy started a Slashdot post with these words: 'Last week at Google I/O, the company introduced Cardboard, its cheap-and-cheerful (it's made of cardboard, after all) approach to nearly instant VR viewing.' Several commenters noted that Viewmaster has been doing something similar for over 70 years; that you can get a slicker 3-D adapter for your smartphone from Durovis, with the Vrizzmo VR Goggles and vrAse coming soon; and that you can buy an iPhone/iPod Touch-only 3-D viewer for about $8 (at the time this was typed), which is a whole lot less than the price of most third-party Cardboard kits that are getting ready to hit the market. || The Google person behind The Cardboard is VP Clay Bavor, whose day job is overseeing Google apps. Clay says you are welcome to make your own Cardboard from scratch instead of buying one (or a kit) from someone else, and of course you can write all the software for it you like. || You may (or may not) remember that Timothy ended that June 29 post about Cardboard with a promise that before long we'd have 'a video introduction to Cardboard with Google VP Clay Bavor.' So here it is, as promised. (Alternate Video Link)

Clay Bavor: I’m holding what we call the Cardboard. It’s just cardboard—that’s the product.

Tim: It’s cardboard and a few other materials are in there, right?

Clay Bavor: Sure. Technically, it’s not only cardboard, there are other advanced materials in it like a single rubber band which we use to hold the phone securely in place and there’s also

Tim: Now you are getting ahead of us. Because we haven’t even revealed to anyone that there is a phone inside it yet.

Clay Bavor: That’s true, that’s true.

Tim: But now that we have, you’ve given away the secret, why is there a phone in here? What is the overall purpose?

Clay Bavor: So we have this insight that newer smartphones have very high resolution screens. They have gyros so that you can understand the orientation of the screen, and if you can just kind of get your phone up to your eyes you might have this wonderful immersive three-dimensional experience. So we just used some cardboard and a rubber band and a couple of magnets and some Velcro with an NFC tag thrown in for good measure—we created this little thing. Again we call it the Cardboard that lets you be anywhere, so we built it with Google Earth, you can travel to Paris, you can street view anywhere but actually just look around in your environment like you’re actually there—it’s pretty neat.

Tim: Can someone build their own?

Clay Bavor: Absolutely. We actually have a do-it-yourself kit, at g.co/cardboard so, you have printing instructions. You can cut it with an X-Actoknife—real pros use a laser cutter—but not everyone has a laser cutter quite yet. So you can build your own, the only thing it’s hard to get are the lenses, but there are a couple of places to order the lens—they cost like 10c or 20c.

Tim: And they are off the shelf parts?

Clay Bavor: Exactly. All of it is off-the-shelf including obviously the cardboard—you can use a pizza box, if you had the pizza the other night. And then rubber band. Actually one of the other things is people have asked, “Does it work for iPhone?” The answer is yes, but you need an iPhone adapter, which is actually in the form of a No.2 pencil—we find Ticonderoga brand works very nicely.

Tim: And how does that fit into the physical package here?

Clay Bavor: Sure, yeah. Well, I don’t have an iPhone with me, but you just place it in there and it raises the level of the iPhone to exactly where you want it relative to your eyes.

Tim: Talk about the inspiration for it, you mentioned that someone thought this was a way to take advantage of sensors. It is also a very cheap way to do it, so what does it allow?

Clay Bavor: Sure. An engineer named David Coz in the Paris office, again, had this realization that “Oh gosh! smartphone, high resolution screen, sensors, if you could just get that screen close to your eyes and then put the right content on it, you could have this amazing experience.” So he and a friend, Damien Henry, spent a weekend with an X-Actoknife and some cardboard and put together the original prototype. They were then in town in Mountain View, where our headquarters is, for a couple of days and show edit to people and everyone just said, “This is great!”Like everyone with a smartphone suddenly has this wonderful little thing to have an immersive experience and be anywhere. And so then over the last six or eight weeks we sat about making it a proper product as much as can be said for a piece of cardboard. But getting the packaging right, making it cheap and scalable to produce and so on. And then figuring out all the little clever

things like the rubber band to hold the phone in place.

And one of the things we’re actually most proud of is: The magnet on the side is you realize, well, once your phone is in there and you can’t the touch the screen how do you interact with the phone? And we solved that with this magnet. So there’s a magnet on the inside and a magnet on the outside. You pull this magnet down and then we read changes in the magnetometer, the compass in your phone. We can interpret those changes as a click or a double click or even a full range of throttle, right? You can move around and interact with the environment even when your phone is inside the cardboard.

Tim: It is a little bit like having a little reed switch.

Clay Bavor: Exactly.

Tim: You got a physical separation but you’ve got that connection.

Clay Bavor: It’s like having your own little clicker on the side even though your phone is immersed in cardboard.

Tim: Now talk about how things are assembled, one of the things that you find online often is bill of materials, and you’ll find an estimated piece. How much would this cost for someone to assemble?

Clay Bavor: Well, if you use a pizza box and rubber band you already have around $0. What’s in here—it’s a few dollars—and you can buy it all off-the-shelf. Obviously you can make a lot of them to get a bit cheaper. If you make your own it takes a bit more, but most of that is in your time the X-Actoknife or a laser cut, or however you come up with the cardboard. But we’ve tried to make that really easy on the website with just all the parts there, all the instructions—you should just be able to make your own.

Tim: You could use it as a stereoscope, couldn’t you?

Clay Bavor: Exactly. So one of the things we do is because there are two viewports, we can put a left eye and right eye image on the phone, and then your eyes combine that and you get a vivid 3D image and then you can look around in this kind of 3D world and things are just there.

Tim: And it is wireless?

Clay Bavor: Exactly, you don’t have to hook it up to anything. I think the thing we are most excited about is we wanted to do this in a very open way. We want a thousand flowers to bloom in this space. Lots of people are going to do lots of interesting things and we want to give everyone a leg up in figuring out how to make these great 3D immersive experiences—we hope Cardboard will help with that.

Tim: Let me ask one more question. You mentioned that with the aid of a pencil you can make an iPhone work, and I saw some people today trying to putting a different size phone, what is the approximate size range or what sort of smartphone you can put in there and have it still sense?

Clay Bavor: Yeah. We’ve tried most of the top Android handsets and the iPhone of course. We found up to about 5” screen works great, beyond that it gets a little bit tight, you need a little bit of extra cardboard. I think don’t try to put your Nexus 7 here just yet. Although we do have an oversized cardboard that looks like you get like a 32” HDTV in there out at the booth. So we don’t fit all sizes, but we do have the extra-large size although you need a very large head for it to work.

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On the Significance of Google's New Cardboard (Video)

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