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February 18, 2019

Experiencing Cardboard's virtual reality first-hand

Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard

Imagine that you’re unable to attend a long awaited campus reunion. With a pair of glasses, you’re in the middle of the action and able to see what went on. The whole thing is recorded, so you can replay the experience whenever you like. By just donning a pair of goggles, you can easily navigate yourself in the Antarctica and get to have a virtual feel of the place.

When people first hear about virtual reality, they imagine stepping into a new world. Cardboard aims at developing accessible virtual reality (VR) tools to allow everyone to enjoy VR in a simple, fun, and natural way. It uses lenses to magnify the display on your smartphone.

The cardboard is so simple that one can make it using localised equipment. With only two lenses, two magnets, two Velco pads and three pieces of cardboard, the device is ready to be used.

However, version 2.0 of Google Cardboard that was introduced later simplifies the design of its predecessor. The magnet that the original version used to interact with the applications in place is replaced with a trigger that taps directly onto the screen. The new Cardboard is slightly larger to accommodate larger phones and it also folds down into a slightly more compact shape.

Being hand-held, it's very much a case of identifying what you want to view, setting the cardboard application going and then placing your phone in the viewer.

There is a button on top of the device and this is the only available part for use. This is very much used as a click, letting you pause a video or move through a landscape or some other interaction. Simplicity seems the main concept that Google put into use in coming up with this device.

In its use, navigation differs from app to app, but many of the apps utilise a hover action.

Cardboard can also bring the world experience directly into the classroom. Students can have an interesting time getting to travel the globe learning about different cultures, geography and biology. They are able to look up, down, at a 360° view and feel like they're standing right there in the location, giving a more hands on and enjoyable experience for them.

Street View is the mobile version of Google's ground level Maps feature. Put these two apps together and you get a virtual reality view of anywhere you want or can visit in Street View.

Street View has featured just about everywhere as the app showcases not only Google's own mapping efforts, but also users'. In fact, you can use Street View to create your own 360 degree photo spheres and add them to the collection for viewing later.

I was able to 'visit' the Samburu national park that is already featured on Street View and got to see gazelles, buffaloes, giraffes and other wild animals. I also 'toured' streets in Uganda and also got to travel by road from Entebbe International airport to the central business district of Kampala.

It was quite an interesting and immersive experience travelling round Kampala while in the comfort of my seat at home. The screen really is a couple of inches away from your eyeballs, so you notice a lot more detail than you do when you’re using Street View on desktop or on mobile.

Virtual reality’s time is here. VR is bound to affect many fields of everyday life, not just as a form of entertainment or to pass time, but also as a tool to produce information, increase our knowledge, explore new places for both pleasure and business and greatly improve consumer experience.

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