Google Cardboard are VR (Virtual Reality) goggles made out of cardboard using an android smart phone as the central processing unit and display via the Google Cardboard App. The cardboard shell can either be purchased for less than £10 complete with lenses and magnet button control or the cardboard design downloaded from the website and the other parts purchased separately.
The mobile phone provides you with orientation tracking using a gyroscope and accelerometer built into the phone which means that the the app can track the movement of the user’s head updating the imagery on the phone depending on the direction that the user is facing.
A magnetic trigger on the outside of the cardboard allows interaction with the VR environment by effecting the magnetometer in the phone. Although with calibrated magnetometers this can only act as a single button, with uncalibrated magnetometers incorporated in newer phone there is greater variety of abilities with the possibility of incorporating a joypad into the outside of the case.
The Google Camera App (On Android 4.4 and later) can record 360° Photo Spheres which can easily be viewed in the Google Cardboard App on the smartphone, other Photo Spheres can be viewed be editing their file names. The app can also view videos on YouTube including those designed for the Oculus Rift or other VR Gear with two separate views in the video. Integration with Google Earth and Google Maps Street View is also possible.
Two SDKs (Software Development Kits) can be downloaded from the website:
- The first is the Cardboard SDK for Android which allows VR applications to be quickly created in OpenGL.
- The second is the Cardboard SDK for Unity which allows an application created in the Unity 3D game engine to be viewed in the Google Cardboard Goggles or to design one from scratch.
Although designed for phones with the Android operating system, phones using iOS can also be used in the Google Cardboard using Durvois Dive (a plastic VR Goggle frame which also uses smartphones) apps.
Google Cardboard was designed to both allow the cheap and easy ability for almost anyone to view VR and to help push forward development of the systems.
It has the ability to both view virtual reconstructions of sites and view still 360° photographs and immersive videos of sites, these can easily be downloaded and viewed by anyone anywhere in the world using the technology. The fact that the phone can be used to create 360° Photo Spheres as well enables the both the recording and viewing of views of cultural heritage and excavations with technology that may already be owned.
Because it uses a smartphone there are limitations to its abilities that would not be there with more powerful computer systems. The quality of the imagery is also completely dependent on the quality of the smartphone screen.
Although the control is limited to the one button on the outside of the Google Cardboard some wi-fi/bluetooth game controllers can be used with Android operating systems allowing much more interaction. There have however been problems with the button working, particularly on certain models, it is after-all a technical workaround to use a device for a function it was not designed for.