TreeHugger is covering the INDEX awards, celebrating the idea of "Design to Improve Life". This post covers one of the 46 finalists chosen from 1,123 entries.
150 years ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes reinvented the Stereoscope, developing a version that became hugely popular; it remained in production for a century. You looked through two lenses at a pair of photographs taken from a slightly different angle and the 3D effect was impressive. Fifty years ago, kids of all ages loved the Viewmaster, which is still in production.
Google engineers David Coz and Damien Henry developed Google Cardboard to build on the stereoscope principle, but have turned it into a Virtual Reality platform. You can build it yourself from cardboard or buy it precut for a few bucks; fasten your smart phone in with a rubber band and open the app, and you are off for a ride.
And what a ride it is; I went to the base of the Eiffel Tower, looked up and around and the scene moves as if you are there. The accelerometer in the phone picks up your movements perfectly and the 3D effect is totally real. What a powerful educational tool this could be, you can go anywhere. I was thinking of the hiking trips I might take while on a treadmill; touring the space station. Google already has lots of them: " Around the globe, on the surface of Mars, on a dive to coral reefs or back in time — abstract concepts come to life in Expeditions, giving students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom."
And unlike Facebook's Oculus Rift, this is as close to free as you can get. And it will stay that way:
Not only does the Google Cardboard bring virtual reality to millions more consumers than the high-tech headsets, but has allowed thousands of gaming enthusiasts the chance to develop their own VR apps for Android. The Cardboard SDK for Android enables developers familiar with OpenGL to start creating VR applications with ease. The toolkit simplifies many common VR development tasks, including head tracking, 3D calibration, side-by-side rendering and many more. By keeping the hardware and software open, the Google Cardboard project fosters much broader community participation and democratises the world of virtual reality.
Now I will admit that I got seriously seasick, and could not look at the thing for a day without feeling queasy again. (In fact I am feeling it in my stomach just writing about it now). But I am also told that it's better on Android phones rather than my iPhone. Who knows, perhaps they built nausea into the Apple app just for spite. But you put this on for two minutes and realize that the possibilities are endless; this could truly be a design that improves life for a lot of people.
Oh, the places you'll go.
More at INDEX: Design to Improve Life