Google gets it. They understand that widespread VR is coming soon and that means headsets – those clunky, awkward, hairstyle-destroying devices that allow us to imagine we are standing on the USS Enterprise or on the Great Wall of China, all while sitting at a Starbucks.
With Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens, headsets are definitely real products. But Google gets that we aren’t all going to shell out $200 or more and strap on bulky headsets just for a taste of VR. They lowered the bar last year by eschewing bulky plastics and high-tech eyewear and introducing Google Cardboard: a simple, folded piece of cardboard plus some plastic lenses and adhesive. This one leap has changed perceptions of what is required to get people trying VR. This year, they’ve lowered the bar all the way to the floor with an even simpler cardboard box that unfolds in three steps (compared to 12 steps for the original). We can even get Cardboard headsets printed with artwork or logos and have them mounted to our favorite baseball cap.
Google gets that a headset is just the gateway to the compelling content that we need, so they also announced Jump: a platform to tether 16 digital cameras in a fixed circular array to take 360-degree image and video captures, plus an image assembler to stitch all 16 images together with edge translation, color correction, and blur removal. Suddenly, we no longer need $100K specialized cameras, we only need 16 GoPro Hero cameras mounted just so, and we need Google’s Jump Assembler to put it all together. But, what we’ll get are YouTube-ready, 3D videos that are tailor-made for viewing with – you guessed it – a Cardboard headset. Expect Jump content to appear on YouTube in July, but the camera arrays won’t be publicly available for several months.
Google further announced that the Cardboard app is now available on iOS (get it here), so the other half can see what all the fun is about, too.
And if that weren’t enough, Google announced Cardboard Expeditions: an in-classroom VR experience to give students a view of a location or experience in a controlled setting where the instructor guides the experience. An Expedition pack will include multiple Cardboard headsets and accompanying phones, and a tablet synchronized to the phones that will allow teachers to control the virtual outings.
Look for the updated YouTube app to support VR content soon, and cardboard headsets to be all over your local Starbucks.