MMS • Sergio De Simone
Low-cost virtual reality (VR) platform Google Cardboard is now available as an open source project to let developers create new VR-powered apps and adapt existing ones to new devices. Google’s announcement comes a few weeks after the discontinuation of its Daydream VR platform.
With Cardboard and the Google VR software development kit (SDK), developers have created and distributed VR experiences across both Android and iOS devices, giving them the ability to reach millions of users.
Introduced in 2014, Google Cardboard is intended as a low-cost VR headset to encourage experimentation with VR applications. As its name implies, the viewer was originally made of cardboard and other low-cost components such as 45mm focal length lenses, a velcro fastener, and a few magnets, and relied on a smartphone to be used as a display.
More than 15 million Cardboard were sold worldwide, says Google, with over 160 million Cardboard-enabled app downloads. According to Google, the Cardboard contributed to the success of the YouTube Virtual Reality channel and made possible the creation of the education-focused Expeditions app. Google also released precise schematics and assembly instructions that enabled the creation of a number of variations of the original design which were available for as little as $5. Now, Google is trying to replicate this schema by open-sourcing the whole platform to inject new life in it.
While we’ve seen overall usage of Cardboard decline over time and we’re no longer actively developing the Google VR SDK, we still see consistent usage around entertainment and education experiences, like YouTube and Expeditions, and want to ensure that Cardboard’s no-frills, accessible-to-everyone approach to VR remains available.
Google Cardboard SDK is available on GitHub and includes support to create Android and iOS apps that use motion tracking and stereoscopic rendering to power immersive experiences.
The interest aroused by the Cardboard led Google to introduce a more advanced platform, Google Daydream VR, which was integrated within Android itself and required some hardware support found only in specific devices. As mentioned, Google discontinued its Daydream VR platform a few weeks ago due its declining adoption. Among the reasons Google gave to justify Daydream VR demise was people reluctance to part from their phones while using them as a VR viewer.