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On the Significance of Google's New Cardboard: An Idea Worth Recycling

timothy posted about 4 months ago | from the off-the-shelf dept.

Cellphones 42

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. It's no Oculus Rift — lacking the Rift's connection to a powerful backend PC, it can't do the same heavy lifting. In fact, it looks sort of like a prank, and the announcement at I/O that everyone at the conference would be getting "a piece of cardboard" drew a lot of chuckles. Gigaom argues that it's nonetheless extremely valuable, because it makes immersive viewing easy and cheap for anyone with a fairly capable smartphone — a pretty satisfying experience in itself, and a good taste of what even higher-end viewers can bring. "In addition to the Cardboard app," writes an anonymous reader, "Google has pushed out an updated version of Google Maps which includes a VR mode for Street View." And if you weren't blessed with an I/O pass, and aren't sure about your skills cutting one out of a pizza box, note that you can buy a kit for about $25, including the RF tag that will tell a phone to fire up the Cardboard app. (The linked article says an aluminum version is in the works from at least one company; I'd like to see one in corrugated plastic — strong but light — and with connection points for a headstrap.) If you've made something similar (or would like to), what would you improve in the design or feature set? (Look soon for a video introduction to Cardboard with Google VP Clay Bavor, too.)

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Focus? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47344957)

I see there's two lenses, but still, are people really able to focus on a display which is 3cm away from their eyes?

Re:Focus? (4, Informative)

bmo (77928) | about 4 months ago | (#47344999)

With the correct lens, yes.

Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope was held up close to the eye, and it was a single lens enstrument.

http://www.history-of-the-micr... []


Re:Focus? (2, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | about 4 months ago | (#47345005)

Yes. The lenses produce a virtual image much farther (probably a few feet) away from the viewer's eyes.

Re:Focus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47347097)

The lenses produce collimated light from the display so the focus is at infinity.

Re:Focus? (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47345063)

The basic principles are sound, at least for static display: the venerable View-Master [] had that working and cheap enough for sale as a toy sometime before WWII, with assorted stereoscopic viewer gadgets of varying levels of refinement going back another century or so.

Where life gets difficult is if you want the images on your stereoscopic viewer to be 'VR' without making the user revisit their last meal. Humans turn out to be moderately demanding when it comes to agreement between their own inertial sensors and their visual perception of movement.

I'd be downright impressed if Google's little toy passes the 'VR' test for more than very brief and very lightweight use; but as a stereoscope where the images have the option of moving, not a problem.

Re:Focus? (4, Interesting)

Anaerin (905998) | about 4 months ago | (#47345959)

Well, as the phone (that you slot into the "front" of the contraption) already has a suite of magnetometers, gyroscopes and accelerometers, it can quickly and reasonably accurately track head movement. There's also a hold for the phone's camera to look out, so it can be used for AR purposes (and the camera can be used to augment the head-tracking above).

Of course, what I'm waiting for is for someone to add some kind of "Steam In-Home Streaming" (or something similar) support for the phone, so you can run Oculus-supporting games on your PC and have the video sent over WiFi to your phone/HMD, which would be the perfect "Killer app" for this system. And the chances are, someone (Possibly even Valve) are working on this right now. It might exacerbate the lag issues (what with WiFi latencies and encoding/decoding latencies being added to processing latency), but it would be palpably better from a "freedom of movement" standpoint (and possibly a weight standpoint) than a Rift.

Re:Focus? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47347109)

Well, as the phone (that you slot into the "front" of the contraption) already has a suite of magnetometers, gyroscopes and accelerometers, it can quickly and reasonably accurately track head movement.

Only head orientation, head movement can't be tracked without drift using inertial sensors. Also the frequency of the sensors reading is quite variable among mobile phones (200Hz at best) and quite far from what the Oculus Rift provides (1000Hz) for low latency rotational tracking.

Re:Focus? (1)

gigaherz (2653757) | about 4 months ago | (#47345175)

Yes, that's the whole point of the lenses.

Don't forget these (4, Insightful)

Phong (38038) | about 4 months ago | (#47345085)

There is one already selling ("dive" [] ), one in the works (vrizzmo [] ), and even a funded kickstarter project (vrase [] ). There will probably be a lot more soon.

Re:Don't forget these (2)

BenJeremy (181303) | about 4 months ago | (#47345107)

The only thing these really need added is an LED to aid head tracking with a web cam.

Re:Don't forget these (2)

NortWind (575520) | about 4 months ago | (#47345467)

Another vendor: [] Looks like a faithful reproduction of the original kit.

Re:Don't forget these (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47345561)

Or this one [] .

I can't seem to find the exact date of introduction anywhere; but the PR shots are all taken with a 30-pin iDevice that doesn't look like a 4, lacking the distinctive 'holding it wrong' antenna-edge, so it can't be terribly new. I don't think you get the fancy NFC tag; but it's $8 and preassembled...

Re:Don't forget these (1)

timothy (36799) | about 4 months ago | (#47345619)

... I suspect too narrow, though, for non-iPhone devices. For the Cardboard, the Google folks were demonstrating an "adapter" for iPhones which served to elevate the iPhone a bit. The adapter is a Ticonderoga #2 pencil ...

Re:Don't forget these (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47345725)

Very likely, definitely doesn't advertise compatibility with anything else, and actually includes 4 slightly different shells to snap different iphone and ipod touch devices to the viewer unit, so clearly tolerances are a little fiddly even within Apple's line.

If anyone is actually considering it, I'd imagine that bodging one of the 'shells' into something that fits a different phone wouldn't be too hard; and you get 4 tries. The optics would still presumably cut the edges off your view of the screen, though, since I assume that they were set to maximize the amount of screen, and minimize the amount of darkened-tube-periphery, for iphone screen sizes.

Re:Don't forget these (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47352231)

My S3 and my Motorola XT897 fit fine with a little finagling.

Re:Don't forget these (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47352183)

I hacked one of these months ago by slicing off the iPod bracket and strapping on my Galaxy III with a bent metal plate. I'm still experimenting with different head straps, but the best so far has been in the style of the Occulus demo, a wide stretchy cloth. Works great with the DIVE demo, YouTube's 3D streaming videos, and the various 3D stereographic photo apps out there.

Don't forget these (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47347137)

And all of them were released long after the FOV2GO ( ) which was designed by the creator of the Oculus Rift two years ago.

Google Innovation at its best (not) (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47345105)

Perhaps they looked at this page []

And thought, 'Hey that's a great idea, lets copy these cool things.'

I have a stereo viewer that dates from the day of glass slides (1910)

Google is not an innovation company (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47347311)

They are the ME TOO company with a Xerox machine working in overdrive.

Not one single Google product (not even the search engine) is a Google innovation.

Re:Google is not an innovation company (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 4 months ago | (#47348519)

They still have the fastest javascript engine in the world.

Phone Schmone (3, Interesting)

bobstreo (1320787) | about 4 months ago | (#47345109)

Are there any holders for 7 inch tablets? My tablet has much better graphics and way more storage than my phone.

Re:Phone Schmone (2)

symbolset (646467) | about 4 months ago | (#47345557)

This was my first thought. Would be way better with Nexus 7.

Re:Phone Schmone (2)

timothy (36799) | about 4 months ago | (#47345651)

Phong's comment here [] mentions Dive; I saw at Google I/O that the Project Tango folks had some Dive headgear fitted out with the new Project Tango 7" tablets. Looked very, very cool, but I didn't have time to try them on myself.

Re:Phone Schmone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47355417)

And I want one for my 55" TV.
If a phone can give you the impression of watching a several feet image, imagine the same with a 55" display!! It would be like watching Imax!

Reverse (3, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 months ago | (#47345121)

Expensive hardware makes it hard to consume googles products. So they force the industry to lower the price by doing stuff like this. There's a lot not to love about googles spy empire, but there is at least some good that comes out of it. I've no doubt that I'll be using a cad program in VR and hand gestures in the near future thanks to Google.

Re:Reverse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47347417)

Expensive hardware? 7" Android tablets and 4" form-factor phones can be had for around US$130 off-contract.

Re:Reverse (1)

StripedCow (776465) | about 4 months ago | (#47348521)

Talking about expensive, if everything becomes virtual, I wonder what that will do to the economy.
And how this can backfire on Google.

Mounting a big LCD on your face is VR? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47345155)

VR is doomed into the 3D trend of intermittent popularity. VR must be useable for a long period of time without causing strain or discomfort.

The new Google maps (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47345199)

Just like a lot of things, it offers no easily discernable advantage to me. It also runs at half speed and has UI elements that are either missing or placed poorly. In other words, it's Beta. Then what should we expect anyway, Google were pioneers of the perpetual beta.

Google quality is always ALPHA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47347333)

Calling Google products "beta" is ignoring the fact that they are never stable.

What's old is new again. (3, Interesting)

dbc (135354) | about 4 months ago | (#47345359)

I remember back in the 1970's, the X-Ray crystalography researchers at my university would burn up lots of compute time (on an IBM 360/65, 1 MIPS, 4 mega-bytes of core) computing stereo images that were rendered by writing a mag tape that was then taken to a CalComp pen plotter. Two images, about 8 x 8 inches, were plotted, and then they would lay them on a table and use an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of cardboard from a used-up paper tablet to make a baffle between their eyes.

Re:What's old is new again. (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 months ago | (#47345667)

Silence, Silence! It's people like you that ruin perfectly good patent applications!

In all seriousness, that's definitely the earliest I've heard of computer-generated stereoscopic display. The ones based on photographs taken from slightly different angles are downright ancient; but that's a fairly distinct technique. What I'd be interested to know is whether anyone tried their hand at manually rendered stereoscopic viewer pairs... All the early examples I can think of were photographs, that seems to have been what the mass market wanted; but achieving the effect by hand should have been doable since the invention of perspective drawing... I may have to hit the books.

Re:What's old is new again. (4, Interesting)

dbc (135354) | about 4 months ago | (#47346171)

Actually, you make me reflect on how advanced their code really was. I'm not sure where the code was from. It would process X-Ray scatter data, and plot stereo images of crystal structures showing lots of little pen-plotted circles for atoms. The 3D view was quite remarkable, although you only got one angle. Changing view angle required another plot. Considering Ivan Sutherland's line clipping algorithm dates from the 60's, the crystalography code was quite advanced for the time -- there was a lot of hidden line removal going on to render the atoms correctly.

The plots were really slow... but the plotter was mesmerizing. I used to watch it through the window while waiting for my homework to come back after handing the card deck across the counter. Now, pardon me while I find my walker, damn kids on the lawn again.....

Re:What's old is new again. (3, Interesting)

badbart (929284) | about 4 months ago | (#47347913)

When I entered protein crystallography in the late 80's, the standard of the day was the E&S PS330 (vector graphics, how I miss you!) with split-screen stereo. A few people could make their eyes separate well enough to see the 3-D unaided, but most of us strapped on "the box." The box had a pair of adjustable mirrors in front of each eye--you twiddled their angles and your position until you only saw the one 3-D image. The system worked great, until the neck strain kicked in from the extra weight on your face, or until you tried to look away and take notes.

Re:What's old is new again. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47348429)

we have, indeed, moved backwards

Metal Gear Ac!d 2 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47345597)

There was a PSP game called Metal Gear Ac!d 2 that used this exact concept and came with an identical cardboard device for stereoscopy.

Re: Metal Gear Ac!d 2 (2)

Singularitarian2048 (1068276) | about 4 months ago | (#47346277)

Wow, Kojima is a creative dude. He created another portable game called Boktai that came with a solar sensor on the game cartridge. Parts of the game required actual sunlight.

Retina display and dual cameras... (4, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 4 months ago | (#47345949)

This is a great use for the (otherwise excessively) high-resolution cellphone displays such as Apple's "retina".

Also: This is a strong argument for putting TWO cameras on a cellphone's backside - separated by about the typical distance between a person's eyes and equally speced relative to the centerline of the phone. That would enable the formation of a stereoscopic augmented reality display showing the correct image of the background. (It would also enable taking stereoptic pictures.)

Re:Retina display and dual cameras... (1)

Undead Waffle (1447615) | about 4 months ago | (#47348627)

That is an amazing idea. Set up my phone to feed a 3D video feed of what I am pointing at directly to my VR headset. That way I can see the world in 3D everywhere I go! Why did they even bother with Google Glass when we could have all been walking around with cardboard boxes on our heads already?

steam? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47346051)

When does it get that streaming steam app? :>

Google cardboard? (4, Funny)

Dean Woodyatt (3409097) | about 4 months ago | (#47346507)

They should call it 'oculus thrift'
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