When the low-cost, entry-level Google Cardboard virtual reality (VR) device was introduced at the Google I/O 2014 developers conference, it was immediately recognized as a “gateway” device to bring VR to the public and generate interest in developing for the platform. A Google Cardboard demonstration application has been available for Android and iOS devices for some time and new experiences are created and shared from locations around the globe through virtual reality applications.
Just over a year since its public debut and Cardboard has become more than just an experiment born from Google’s 20% “Innovation Time Off” program for their employees — it has become a widely accepted tool for introducing users to virtual reality. And this week, Google pushed out an update to their Street View applications that includes a virtual reality mode designed to work with Google Cardboard.
The latest version of Street View can create the side-by-side binocular version of any available location available giving users the ability to use a Cardboard headset to look around the virtual reality sphere with real-time head-tracking.
Unlike the demo experiences contained in the Cardboard app, the scenes from Street View are not processed to fix the distortion from the lenses (at least not in this first version), so there is some warping but nothing so dramatic that it reduces the impressiveness of the virtual reality.
The logical progression from the 360° imagery that Google has been collecting to a fully immersive virtual reality experience has been expected (or at least dreamed of) since Street View’s launch in 2007. The possibilities are only limited by the places that the user might want to visit — imagine the potential of sending students to visit distant places without leaving their classroom or offering tourists the possibility of sampling potential destinations while perusing a travel site.
Now that AR technology has come home in a big way, we might just be finding the first of the events that brings augmented reality from a niche product to mass adoption.