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This is Google Cardboard. It's really, really weird.


Here's the gist: Google is experimenting with virtual reality displays at I/O 2014, including a new VR toolkit for developers to try out. They've also created an Android app that will let you simulate an Oculus Rift-style, dual-screen VR headset using only your phone, kind of like that Samsung rumor from last month. Here's the problem: you don't have a headset. Google I/O attendees are getting free headsets that they can build out of cardboard, which then holds their phone at optimal VR-viewing distance. Because nothing says "international developer conference run by one of the world's biggest technology companies" like a bunch of coders strapping cardboard boxes to their faces.

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Those of you lucky readers who actually got to attend Google I/O this year can try out this app, which includes all kinds of nifty VR demonstrations, like a Google Earth interface, 3D objects, POV Photo Spheres, and simulated big-screen YouTube videos. The app separates the phone's screen into two sections, one for each eye, which allows the stereoscopic effect to work inside the headset. All cool so far.

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The puzzling thing is that Google seems to think that all the kids at home will want to try this out too, and want it so much that they'll be willing to build their own VR headset out of cardboard. I'd be juuust about up for this, since I've got dozens and dozens of Amazon boxes lying around. Here's the parts list:

  • Cardboard
  • One Neodymium magnet and one disc magnet
  • two strips of velcro
  • a rubber band
  • an optional NFC tag

So you put all this together according to the plans available on the Cardboard developer site, and... oh, wait. There's one more thing:

  • Two convex lenses with a focal distance of 40mm


Yeah, I'm sure I've got those just lying around. These lenses will simulate the wide-angle view of a VR headset, approximating the extremely wide angles and peripheral vision necessary to make a convincing VR environment. If you're still on board, Google recommends buying lenses From Durovis (US, EU).

So, if you get all that together, you can try Google's nifty little phone-based VR experiment, and even code some of your own. Good luck. I'll wait to see if this is just another one of Google's flights of fancy, or if they're actually committed to doing something with VR.

Note: One Amazon merchant seems to be re-selling the $10 lenses at an insane $250. Please ignore "AdibTea," on account of being an opportunistic douche.

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • Dan W

    definitely thought this was a late April Fools' joke at first...

  • xero1

    The app is 188MB O.O?

  • Daeshaun Griffiths

    this is the definition of DIY.

  • Brad

    Someone should put together a kit for me to buy

  • Rovex

    I can almost get this to work by looking at the phone like you do with those magic eye things, almost, but I need to hold the phone about 18 inches away and i cant move it much without losing the effect.

    Will we be able to buy the kits?

    • Gre Gor

      I can hold my phone 12 cm (4.7 inches) away and get a clear picture. Closer and I can't focus my eyes and get a blurry picture.
      If I take off my glasses I can get closer to around 6 cm (2.4 inches), but it's harder to focus.

      • Rovex

        I guess age prevents me from getting a focus that close!

  • sivkai

    I'd rather wait for clever Chinese manufacturers to sell a pre-built one on eBay.

  • GraveUypo

    would try for sure if i could get one of them lenses.

  • Suhas Raja

    I love google.

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    I thought it had Project Tango tablet or Volantis inside..

  • Sruly J

    "Because nothing says "international developer conference run by one of the world's biggest technology companies" like a bunch of coders strapping cardboard boxes to their faces."


    • JT

      Seriously, wtf were they smoking when they came up with this?

      • Sruly J

        Google or AP?

      • Bob G

        The mind of a genius is rarely understood by plebes.

      • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

        iMore (the site/nlog) is going to have a field day with this. They are obnoxious a-holes as it is.

  • Russell Walker

    Boxulus Rift

    • Justin W

      Facebook-integration Free!

    • PraiseDuarte

      Oculus Thrift

  • Jephri

    I for one think this looks fun. With 5 dollars in parts I can build a low tech VR handset. Whats to complain about

    • rheerani

      20+ dollars in part actually.

      • Kalvin

        If you decide to take DIY to the next level, you can improvise the lenses from a magnifying glass. Shouldn't be more than $3. The project's price would be reduced to ~$5.

  • Spasillium

    I'm so going to do this. DIY FTW!

    EDIT: Will do once the prices of lens go down :(

  • Franivelius

    LOL this is nice! But the motion blur probably is strong in this one :P

  • Austin Spangrud

    I'm pretty sure I made a reddit post on this about what implications photosphere would have on google glass. Look who's laughing now!

    "Could you imagine the implications this could have on google glass? since this sways with your head it could create an almost virtual landscape for you to view!
    Imagine your friend being on the golf course while you're at work or home. He sends you a photosphere of his next shot. It shows the hole and the golf ball and you can look around in your virtual google glass headset like you're there. So you can look around and see the whole hole. including the jerks behind you that just tee'd off when they know they're in distance of hitting you. You can just imagine the "fore" coming from behind you as you want to run scared from the golf ball that could be coming right after your head.
    Or you get a photosphere at work of the beach where your girlfriends at. You sit in your cubicle while having the beach up on your heads up display. You place headphones on and listen to the soothing ness of the beach as you dwell deeper into the beach. As you look around you see shiny tan legs and go... DAMN I'd look good with shaved legs, even though yours are the palest legs in comparison. so you go home and shave your legs and they look disgusting.
    Or how about your wife or girlfriend sending you a picture of "Just waking up! This is my view!" photosphere. You bring it up on your google glass and start looking all around your heads panning as everyone on the street thinks that you've gone insane. You see the gorgeous opening where it's looking over a cove, the sunrise is coming up just perfectly and you can almost feel the warmth of the sun even though you're in rainy Seattle. As you look around her room you see all her clothes strewn around and see how expensive the room is as you pan past the naked man in the bed. You realize that there's a naked man in your bed so you pan back and do the little dog head cock of non understanding, then realize it's your best friend. You start crying on the street with everyone on the sidewalk wondering what the hells going on. but it's still on the photosphere and can't look away. So you turn around and see that gorgeous opening in the screen door of the beach and the sunset. And everything seems just fine."

    • rheerani

      Goddamit Austin, you just crushed a man's hope of having shaved legs :(

      • Austin Spangrud

        Or... Saved you from months and months of covering legs in summer... Sweating... And then!!! Then!!!! The hair will start coming back and chafing which... Is no fun.

        Pretty sure I saved anyone that read that

        • rheerani

          LOL, I don't know if this is getting serious or what :P

          Anyways pretty sure I was not gonna shave my legs and now won't even do it for money after reading what you said ;)

  • Sean Lumly
  • someone755

    Why doesn't Google put this up on Play Store to sell!?
    Like $30 a piece, it would be awesome and everyone would buy it!

    • outadoc

      $30, lolwut.

      • Andres Schmois

        The lenses are about 10 bucks each. So that's already 20 dollars in parts. Even if google can mass produce this to lower the price, 30 dollars sounds reasonable enough.

        • someone755

          Exactly what I was aiming for. :3

  • QuadKore

    Damnit! I was thinking about trying this out too, until I saw it needs magnets and lenses. My 4yr old daughter would've loved it too! Oh well.

  • atlouiedog

    I have access to sheets of cardboard and a laser cutter. Let's see if I can finish the day without ordering magnets and lenses.

  • Gomez
  • http://www.exabit.tk/ Thomas Miller

    This works as an alternative: http://www.amazon.com/Hasbro-Viewer-touch-iPhone-Black/dp/B004T7VI2Y

    I had one lying around my house, and it seems to work perfectly if I just hold my Nexus 4 against it.

  • Golden Eagle

    Only have convex lenses with a focal point of 50 mm in my garage....oh well...back to the drawing board.

    • Daniel Orchard

      Oh my box of spares was missing that pair, 30mm, 35mm........ 45mm D'oh
      What the hell did i use them for again?

    • Devesh Yadav

      You can use 50mm focal length lens also. The image will be little small. Plus you would have to keep phone 1cm farther than the current position.
      I used 80mm focal length, and had to keep the phone around 60 cm farther than the current position.

  • Paul_Werner

    Use those extra Amazon boxes to make these and sell them on Amazon ;-)

  • erikiksaz

    Haha suckers, I'm an eye doctor so I have those types of lenses laying around =)))

    • Quixote87

      I actually lol'd at this. Contrary to my use of lol, not many laughs are 'out', and certainly not loud. Bravo, sir.

  • charles anderson

    Reminds me if the metal gear acid game for the psp

  • R. Meyners

    Works great paired with Google Two-Cans-and-a-String

  • Devesh Yadav

    I made this, and the app is really awesome. Here's how i did it.