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Google Cardboard in 2015: What’s next for virtual reality in a cardboard box?

The sleeper hit at last year’s Google I/O developer conference was undoubtedly Google Cardboard, but what’s new for the 2015 revision of this VR experience in a box?

Clay Bavor tied up yesterday’s opening keynote by revealing that over the last year Google Cardboard has accrued over one million viewers. Similarly to Android Wear, the original Cardboard experience blossomed into it’s own sub-genre of apps, with third-party developers creating content ranging from music videos and horror games, to what can best be described as interactive art.

Jump to 2:36:45 for all things Google Cardboard.

Naturally the company doesn’t want to snub the momentum the platform has already gathered and brought a handful of important announcements to the stage in San Francisco, starting with a new version of Cardboard.

A bigger, better Google Cardboard

‘Google Cardboard 2.0’ as we’ll call it, comes as a more complete package, requires just three steps to fully assemble versus the original 15 and rather than relying on a phone with a magnetometer to emulate a button press, the new version of Cardboard sports a button containing a conductive foam which Google says should work with any smartphone when pressed.

Google Cardboard open

Naturally the increasing size of smartphones has also been a limiting factor on who can make use of Cardboard, so the 2015 edition is also larger, accepting phone’s with displays up to 6-inches, such as the company’s own Nexus 6. This enhanced viewer was just the beginning however.

Developers who pick up the latest iteration of the Cardboard SDK have the potential to reach a considerably larger audience this time around and Bavor revealed that Android and iOS are now both supported.

Expeditions

To round things off Cardboard’s section of the keynote focused on sharing greater experiences with two unique tools. Google has been piloting a scheme it’s calling Expeditions, sending a box to schools containing smartphone-laden Cardboard viewers and a tablet for the teacher all synchronised and ready to work together.

Expeditions

Using VR as an educational tool, letting students visit far-flung places in an instant is an experience I wish I’d had the opportunity to experience as a kid, but seems like one of the most compelling and intriguing new uses for the platform.

Jump + GoPro

If you’ve used any VR equipment thus far, you will have likely seen 360-degree photos and videos, as well as 3D stereoscopic videos. Yesterday Google also announced a new set of tools for creating immersive virtual reality experiences dubbed Jump.

Jump is comprised of three components: a camera rig, what’s called an ‘assembler’ and a player with which to view content. For the first piece of the puzzle, Google did a bit of math and discovered that a circular camera rig housing 16 cameras with the right field of view was required to create the perfect environment for 3D stereoscopic, 360-degree video.

Jump camera array

Luckily, unless you want to, you won’t have to build this rather intricate camera system yourself as the company also revealed that it has partnered with GoPro to offer up a pre-built Jump camera system of its own. We’re not sure on pricing, but with 16 GoPro’s strapped in there, you can be sure that it won’t be cheap.

Jump footage unstitched

This is a partial example of the Jump camera’s footage before being passed through the assembler.

The assembler is essentially the program used to collate the 16 video streams and merge them into a coherent video. Google showed off a particularly impressive breakdown of how the technology evens out exposure, smooths the joins between each segment of footage and even interpolates between the viewpoint of each camera allowing for that 360-degree stereoscopic vision.

Jump interpolation demo

Here’s that impressive 3D interpolation in action. Click this image if it doesn’t appear to move.

Last but not least is the player and impressively enough, YouTube will be the chosen vehicle for Jump footage and other 360-degree video content (360-degree videos will arrive first, followed by 3D, stereoscopic 3D videos later in the year). Arguably the trickiest challenge for VR to be taken seriously has been finding a means of collating and accessing content on a large scale, using YouTube immediately solves this problem.

So that’s all there is to know about the new Google Cardboard experience right now. Stay tuned for more VR goodness in the near future.

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