Google Cardboard: Virtual Reality for the Rest of Us

Universal access to Virtual Reality (VR) technology is on the horizon.  Rapid developments in advanced VR technology coming from companies such as Oculus Rift and Google have piqued the interest of entrepreneurs in many sectors.  Through VR, people can now experience concerts, roller coasters, and even test-drive cars from the comfort of their homes.  Savvy arts managers should pay close attention to this technology. Audience engagement could very well shift from filling seats to wearing headsets within the next decade.

Welcome Google Cardboard 

Launched in June 2014, Google Cardboard is a new, low-cost VR hardware and software bundle that utilizes century old technology.  Engineers at Google’s Cultural Institute created this platform to bring VR to the masses.  With Oculus Rift headsets starting at over $350, Google wanted to create a low-cost alternative that could be available immediately.  As a result, anyone can make or acquire a Google Cardboard headset for under $25.

Operating the system is simple:

1)    Build/Purchase the headset

2)    Download the desired app

3)    Place smartphone in the headset

4)    Peer into the virtual world


The Hardware

The headset device is comprised of materials found in most homes: a large piece of cardboard (a pizza box will suffice), a piece of tape, a pair of scissors, and two 45mm focal distance lenses.  The lenses might not be commonplace materials, but they can be purchased for under $10 on Amazon.  With these parts, everyone can create a Google Cardboard VR headset.  Complete kits can also be purchased for under $25.



The Google Cardboard website lays out the steps necessary to create the device.  Once you have folded the cardboard correctly and inserted the lenses, you are ready to experience VR. 


The Software



Google designed an easy to use SDK for developers to use to create 3-dimensional spaces compatible with the headset.  While most apps are designed for the Android operating systems, iOS apps are also available.  Applications can be completely animated (Roller-coaster app) or use videos captured in 3-D (Paul McCartney concert app and the Volvo test-drive app).  The possibilities of future apps are endless, and this technology will develop quickly. 

Moving Forward 

As Virtual Reality continues to gain in popularity, it is inevitable that people will want to consume more art and media while sitting in their homes instead of venturing to a museum or performance space.  As such, arts organizations need to invest in this technology to meet the demand or they risk becoming obsolete in the mind of their audiences.  This technology also creates a new revenue stream for arts organizations by charging users for access to the 3-D content.  By streaming exhibitions and performances, organizations will be able to connect with audience members in their homes all around the world.  The paradigm of how audiences engage with art is shifting, and we must meet these changes head-on.   Google Cardboard is a great, low-cost platform to experiment with and may prove to be instrumental in disseminating new and engaging content.