Google's Disposable Oculus Rift

Facebook's acquisition of Oculus Rift brought virtual reality into focus for many brand marketers, but Google wants to make it affordable for all to experience. At its I/O conference, Google gave away a cardboard virtual reality kit, calling it an experimental sample for temporary use when paired with a Nexus 5 smartphone. Affordable VR lenses open new possibilities for online and offline advertising.

The kit provides downloadable instructions telling users how to put it together. Developers will find a near field communications (NFC) chip, magnets and 40-millimeter lenses. Glue is required, but not included. The Mifare UL-C NFC tag is optional.

The VR kit began as a side 20%-time project by a Google engineer based in Paris. The group began working with cardboard to come up with a rough design. The group wanted the viewer headset to easily fit the phone and become simple to put together.

Online instructions should give anyone the ability to construct a VR viewer from everyday items. The magnet should line up with the phone so when clicked it allows the person viewing the image through the phone a sense of virtual reality. Scroll to 8:44 in the video to get a view of the mountains in flight, depending on how the user positions their head while looking through the lens.

Unlike an old-fashioned viewfinder with a circular image wheel, the mobile application on the phone enables the user to learn more about the image they visit through the VR viewer. The app uses street view data to provide the details for places of interest such as the Palace of Versailles in France. The images track the motion of the head.

YouTube integration turns the viewer into a massive screen for video game play, movie-watching or concertgoing. Google Maps provides a street view mode to see side-by-side screen rendering.

Christian Plagemann, senior research scientist at Google, said the cardboard is a placeholder to get developers started -- and that developers will need to adjust for distortion that enlarges outer images more than inner ones. The images track the motion of the head.

Some of the applications demonstrated were written in Android, while others were written in Chrome. At I/O, the group released a forthcoming open source Android-based toolkit. Googler Boris Smus demonstrated a treasure hunt application that puts the object in the field of vision of the viewer. The person must collect the object by pressing the magnet on the side of the cardboard viewer.

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