The calendar might show we're getting close to Christmas, but Google is offering virtual reality (VR) fans an Easter egg instead in the form of a new 3D viewing feature on Google Maps. The VR egg lets Maps visitors get a near-real-life view of various sights in Street View, Google said Tuesday on its Google Plus Cardboard page.
The Google Plus post provides an example with a VR view of Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper. Using Cardboard, a viewer just has to open Street View in Google Maps and then double-tap the look-around button to launch stereo images for a 3D encounter.
Launched at Google's I/O conference earlier this year, Cardboard looks like anything but a high-tech virtual reality viewer. Designed to let anyone with an Android smartphone experience VR in a "simple, fun, and inexpensive way," Cardboard now supports a wide variety of apps ranging from an adventure called Chair in a Room to the Volvo Reality virtual test drive.
500,000 Cardboard Viewers
While decidedly low-tech when compared to, say, the in-development Oculus Rift VR headset (whose company was acquired earlier this year by Facebook), Google Cardboard has proven to be a legitimate contender in the nascent virtual reality space. More than half a million people are reported to have purchased or made the foldable cardboard viewers, which provide users with 3D views after they insert their Cardboard-enabled Android phones inside.
Google has also put out Cardboard SDKs so Android and Unity developers can create their own VR apps or adapt existing apps for VR. The Cardboard & VR Developers Community on Google Plus has more than 7,300 members to date.
In a report about Cardboard in June, CNET noted, "While it sounds goofy and inherently tongue-in-cheek, the Cardboard project was concocted by Google's David Coz and Damien Henry at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris as part of the company's '20 percent time' initiative with the aim of inspiring a more low-cost model for VR development. After an early prototype wowed Googlers, a larger group was tasked with building out the idea."
Google Maps Colbert
On Wednesday, Google also announced -- just in time for Thursday's final episode of "The Colbert Report" -- that its Google Maps Business View added a virtual tour of that program's studio. Part of Street View, Business View lets users take 360-degree virtual tours of the interiors of many hotels, restaurants and other businesses in more than 30 countries. Business View can be accessed by clicking the "See Inside" marker on Google Maps, search or Google Plus.
Built according to open-source specifications, the Google Cardboard viewer is being manufactured by several companies and ranges in price from $15.00 for a basic cardboard kit to $44.95 for an aluminum version.