On the surface, Google Cardboard is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a piece of cardboard. However, when folded in a certain way and accompanied by a smartphone, it's a piece of cardboard that instantly becomes an immersive virtual reality device. That's an impressive opportunity, one that various organizations are just starting to tap into, such as Bank of America, Visa, and the NFL's New England Patriots.
By pairing Cardboard with headphones and this video, viewers can jump into a 360-degree experience of a recent Patriots practice as if they were right there, about to get leveled by the mass of muscle and brute force that is an NFL player. It's obviously not quite like being there in person, but a great showcase for the kind of unique experience virtual reality can be. While much of the focus on bringing virtual reality to the masses has started through video games — Facebook's Oculus for example — there's also a huge opportunity to insert people into "behind the scenes" situations such as a Patriots practice. These are beneficial on both sides — fans get essentially get a front-row seat to something they'd never be able to see otherwise, but aren't intrusive with their presence because they're not really there.
As more intense virtual reality products such as Oculus Rift work out the kinks on their way to market, Google has taken a quicker, easier approach to making the technology widely appealing. In addition to trips to events like a Patriots practice, the company is also offering virtual "field trips" to schools using Google Street View. Called Google Expeditions, the experience takes kids to one of nearly 100 virtual reality locations, including art museums, big business headquarters, and notable landmarks all over the world.
Media organizations are also picking up on the technology as a way to offer new storytelling methods — The New York Times teamed up with Google recently to launch a series of stories in which the viewer essentially rides along and feels like they're right in the action as it unfolds. As with any new medium, it'll take a while for developers and artists alike to fully take advantage of the possibilities, but it's exciting to wonder where we might be able to go when they do. Consider how revolutionary Twitter has been in allowing us to see conversations unfold live on topics big and small. If that sort of interaction could be mapped onto a virtual reality experience, we'd be able to transport ourselves to the front lines and truly live in the kind of virtual world that's long been the stuff of science fiction.
Scary, but thrilling. Just like every new frontier.
Cover image: Flickr