Google caused quite a stir earlier this week when it announced its build-your-own virtual reality headset made of cardboard. Simply assemble the viewer using magnets, lenses, Velcro, cardboard and a rubber band and insert your smartphone as the screen that makes the magic happen.
Just a few days after Cardboard’s release, many people have already tried out the method and experienced VR in the comfort of their own homes.
However, Google Cardboard is not the first attempt to make VR accessible to a wider audience. Altergaze, a 3D printed VR headset, generated buzz through its Kickstarter campaign earlier this year.
Though 3D printing makes the Altergaze headset much more affordable than high tech PC-based systems such as Oculus Rift, Google’s use of cardboard offers a whole new level of cheap.
Now that devices such as Altergaze and Cardboard are bringing VR technology to the masses, what can we do with it? How will the new availability of VR change our everyday lives?
Novelty factor aside (virtual reality in a pizza box!), Cardboard and other affordable VR headsets have many practical applications. Gaming is perhaps the most obvious use, as they have already been developed in conjunction with video game systems to fully immerse players in fictional worlds.
Beyond games, Altergaze creator Liviu B Antoni sees a whole new frontier of uses for accessible virtual reality viewers.
“360 degree films, immersive panoramic images from your holiday, virtual reality social networking, architectural presentations, VR experiences for public spaces like museums or social events are just a few examples of what the wireless and affordable VR headset has to offer outside the games industry,” he says on Altergaze’s Kickstarter page.
Indeed, the use of VR in films, theatre, and other areas of the entertainment industry will be transformative.
Going to a cinema could become completely unnecessary as a film experienced in virtual reality would be the same on a home headset. Attending a theatrical performance could simply entail putting on VR goggles to watch the production as if you are actually sitting in the first row.
Not to mention the educational and medical applications that will arise from more frequent use of virtual reality. Children could study the cultures of other countries by exploring cities through a VR viewer.
Medical students could practice surgeries and gain experience before they ever operate on a real person. Doctors and patients could see the human body on a cellular level to decide proper treatments.
These various uses are just a starting point. The number of ways we integrate this technology into our lives will only continue to grow as more and more people order a pizza, fold up the box and realise the potential of virtual reality.