Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DIY: Build your own Google Cardboard VR viewer

In less than 3 hours, I constructed a virtual reality viewer from a used pizza box somebody had thrown away. Want to make your own? Here's what you'll need, along with some tips and tools for doing it right.


Virtual reality on the cheap
At the 2014 Google I/O developer's conference last June, the tech giant made a splash by handing out kits containing, of all things, pre-cut pieces of cardboard along with a pair of lenses, some magnets and a few other parts. Attendees could assemble these bits into homespun virtual reality viewers that, used in conjunction with certain Android phone models, could display 3D stereoscopic images (full-motion graphics, stills or video).
Called Google Cardboard, the resulting viewer resembles one of those View-Master toys that kids from many generations have used to look at pictures in simulated 3D. (Indeed, Google and Mattel, the maker of the View-Master, just announced an upcoming mashup of the two devices.)
At its initial release, Cardboard came off as a cute riff on the resurgent interest in VR headset technologies. But it appears that serious interest has grown since then: Responding to Google's release of the Cardboard SDK in December, developers have been making an array of third-party Cardboard apps, and the Cardboard G+ community is more than 8,000 members strong. There's even an unofficial iOS port of the Cardboard SDK.
Because the design and assembly plans for the viewer are available for free to the public, businesses have sprouted up that hawk unofficial products: You can buy cheap kits (most cost about $20 - $25) of plain-looking, pre-cut cardboard pieces that are almost identical to those given away at Google I/O 2014 -- or you can spend more for a viewer made of plastic or even leather. (Google itself doesn't sell Cardboard viewers.)
But Cardboard's low-cost, throwaway materials imply a DIY spirit. Instead of buying a pre-made kit, I decided to try making a Cardboard viewer from scratch using Google's downloadable instructions. I wanted to see how difficult it would be to make one and how cheaply I could do it. Follow along to see how I did it -- and to pick up some tips and tricks for making your own.

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