I/O Summary: Google Cardboard Virtual Reality
One year ago, Google introduced cardboard. Amazingly enough, that was all it took to fire up the Virtual Reality scene on Android, and what began as an open design concept exploded into thousands of apps and dozens of headsets from big and small vendors alike. Now, there are more than 1 million cardboard viewers/handsets – a Google-quoted number that might not even be accurate given the ease with which headsets can be rigged through off-the-shelf equipment. This year, cardboard returned to steal the show once again, but this time the updated peripheral is not alone.
The new Cardboard design mercifully supports screens up to six inches in diagonal, such as that on last fall’s Nexus 6, and the upgraded control button works with even the oldest of handsets. In short, nearly every smartphone on the market can run Cardboard, including Did I say any phone? That’s right, the Cardboard SDK for Unity now runs on iOS as well as Android.
Earlier in the year, Google partnered with toymaker Mattel to reboot the ViewMaster franchise as an educational tour guide to locales such as the great barrier reef and Alcatraz. Now, it seems the same magical treatment is coming to the classroom. Google Expeditions are prepackaged sets of Cardboard viewers and a teacher-side companion app for controlling the experience.
Camera rigs for 360 degree videography are expensive. To Google, this is a market opportunity. In the same way that Cardboard jump started a chain of innovation last year, Project Jump looks to democratize wraparound video making with open source 3D printed plans and a software backend for processing the resulting video. Ordinarily this would be enough for one day, and such a move would fit right in line with YouTube’s earlier support for 360 degree video, but Jump takes things a step farther with stereoscopic 3D. Now, any creator can capture truly immersive VR video. The gear’s main innovations are in the camera geometry, the assembler, and the player. Jump features sixteen camera modules, and Google is making an effort in opening up the camera geometry to make it available to anyone this summer. This means that anyone can build a JUMP-ready camera.
The assembler is where the “Google Magic” begins. This software recreates the scene as viewed from thousands of viewpoints to synthesize stereoscopic VR image for each frame. First, raw camera data is taken in for rough alignment. Following this, global color correction and 3D alignment are applied to interpolate between the touted thousands of viewpoints. Google claims that this process is a fundamentally different and more advanced approach than anything they’ve seen so far allowing for not just an image suited for VR but also one showcasing depth of field.
The company has built a set of these cameras and sent them across the world to begin a YouTube video collection in stereoscopic 3D, allowing users to explore places like never before. The full experience is coming to a screen near you this summer, but non-stereoscopic versions will land on YouTube sometime this week; stay tuned to the XDA portal for links as soon as they are up.
We will no doubt eventually see stereoscopic 3D pop up in Google’s other services soon (like street view), so treat this announcement as the beginning of a much larger story. It may not be the rumored Android VR we were expecting, but it’s impressive none the less.
For more Cardboard news, check out the 16 minute keynote clip below, and remember that I/O is an ongoing event full of techies – we likely haven’t heard the last of VR this week.
Do you use Google Cardboard? Will you buy (or build) a VR camera rig? Leave a comment below!