If you looked at the state of the tech industry 3 years ago, VR wasn’t even part of the equation. After the absolute disaster that was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in the mid 1990’s – which really wasn’t true VR in the first place – no one dared leap back into the space for the next couple of decades. Now that more mainstream virtual reality solutions are beginning to hit the market, the most difficult part of moving the tech forward remains: getting it into the public eye.
When Clay Bavor began working on his robotic “teleportation machine”, he was looking to redefine the way people video chat. With current webcam methods, maintaining eye contact with your partner is almost impossible, since staring at a screen creates strange eye placement for the person on the other side. What Clay was attempting to do was connect 2 eye-like cameras to the movement of a users head, allowing constant eye contact when using a headset like an Oculus Rift DK2. When Bavor got his setup working, he was absolutely amazed at what he had created. He felt like he perfected teleportation. He recalls exclaiming,
Whoaaa, this is crazy. This is like the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced.
Bavor immediately began showing his tech to his colleagues at Google, and they were just as amazed as he was. Currently the head of Ads at the Mountain View based company, Bavor only had his free time to experiment with the project. When CEO Larry Page saw the tech however, he realized Google needed a VR unit, and Bavor immediately switched roles to head the new division. While the team was absolutely enthralled with the technology, they realized that getting the tech into the hands of the public was the most important thing in the coming months. After hours of meetings and iteration after iteration, Google’s cardboard headset was finally developed, and able to work with almost any Android smartphone.
Google decided to give cardboard out to attendees of its I/O developer conference, just 8 months before it was set to take place. Even though the tech giant’s Android Wear launched at the conference alongside Cardboard, all the talk was about VR. Now that the press was able to experience what mobile VR was capable of, the buzz wouldn’t stop. In the coming months, Google sold and gave away thousands of Cardboard units, getting it to the hands of the general public, and allowing hundreds of people to develop for the platform.
Google decided that allowing the public to experience the tech was more important than making sure it was fully developed, and opted to release it early and develop it over time. This allowed the public to become enthralled with virtual reality, which arguably helped to make the Vive and Rift as popular as they are today. Google is continuing to develop the mobile version of the technology, and while it doesn’t deliver the same experience as something like Valve or Facebook’s headsets, it’s incredibly accessible to anyone that wants to try it. And to Google, that’s the most important thing.
Have you tried mobile VR?