The experience of virtual reality can be achieved a number of ways. You've got your fully immersive cutting-edge research labs or scaled-down consumer tech hardware like the forthcoming Oculus Rift headset. When I had mono in college, I even achieved virtual reality via prescription cough medicine and some old Pink Floyd records.
A new initiative from those restless souls at Google promises a way to make your own personal VR headset out of materials you can get from the hardware store. So long as you have a smartphone.
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Specifically, an Android smartphone running Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or above. The Cardboard project uses the high technology in the phone to create a VR headset made, yes, from cardboard.
It works like this: Download the design files from Google and assemble your shopping list. You'll need a sheet of corrugated cardboard, a pair of optical lenses, a couple of magnets, some velcro and a rubber band. Optionally, you can add a commercial NFC (near-field communication) tag. You'll also need a ruler and a decent x-acto knife or box cutter on hand. Total material costs: about $2.
Cut your cardboard into some precise shapes, and you can fold it into a headset that looks like a bit like boxy, thirft-store Oculus Rift. Slide your Android phone into the slot on the other side of the optical lenses and, blammo, you've got a VR headset.
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Next you'll need to download the Cardboard app to check out the handful of VR demo applications. If you really want to get serious, you can also download the experimental VR Toolkit, which Google is providing to developers in hopes of spurring a whole new category of VR-by-phone apps.
"By making it easy and inexpensive to experiment with VR, we hope to encourage developers to build the next generation of immersive digital experiences and make them available to everyone." says the team on the project page. "We want everyone to experience virtual reality in a simple, fun, and inexpensive way."
Good thing, because those old Pink Floyd records are expensive.