Doug Toppin's Blog

My thoughts on technology and other stuff

Virtual Reality (on the Cheap) and Google Cardboard

I’ve done some work with augmented reality (AR) in the past using the Metaio SDK where I had an iOS app that would recognize several different aircraft (pictures of them anyway), overlay a 3d representation on the camera view and then display information about components of the aircraft such as changing the color of particular panels or components and inserting text. This is a fascinating area to work in but is limited by not having practical googles where the user is still able to see through the googles but also has additional information overlaid in his view.

Virtual reality (VR) differs from AR in that the user does not look through googles but instead has a display in front of their eyes and only sees what appears on the display. This means that some compute platform has to generate the entire image that the user can see. Google Glass is an example of one aspect of augmented reality where information is displayed not in the sightline of the user but instead off to the side. It is a stepping stone to more practical applications in the future. To let people explore the possibilities of VR at a small cost Google developed a cardboard appliance where a smart phone or small tablet could be inserted and held in front of the user’s eyes.

Both AR and VR generally allow you to look around and have the view match where you are looking. For my aircraft application I was able to change the view angle and in effect walk around the aircraft.

I decided to try cardboard and received mine yesterday. My first observation is that it is definitely not a high quality consumer device which is to be expected. It does not fit together particularly securely but does let a phone slide easily in and out. I have an iPhone 6 and so far it appears that there are more apps for Android than for iOS. For my evaluation I tried the iOS apps Volvo Reality and Kris Menace Virtual Edition. The Volvo app gives you the view of the driver of the car and allows you to look around and see the view in each direction as well as what driving the car would look like. The Kris Menace application is just a 3-dimensional view of graphical objects moving around you and does support looking around in all directions. There are other applications that were written for another device that work to some degree with cardboard such as one called Refugio3D SpaceStation. In general, any application or video (such as found on YouTube) that presents a stereoscopic view (2 different views that give you the impression of 3d) will work to some degree. I tried a few videos and while not iMax quality they were reasonable.

So far my evaluation is that cardboard is that it is interesting but do not get your expectations too high. I think that the Oculus Rift will be a strong competitor in the consumer market and I have held off buying one so far because I expect it will improve a bit more before its actual general release in 2015. It is priced around $350 for a developer version so it is not a trivial buy. In the interim trying out cardboard will give you the flavor of what the future will bring in the area. I think that the Rift will be a very popular item for gaming and many other applications. I suspect Google is going to have its own entry in this area and will be an evolution of Glass.

More information about Google cardboard can be found at https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/.

Oculus Rift can be found at https://www.oculus.com/.

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