One of the more popular functions of Google Maps is Street View. When viewing a specific address using the traditional map view, Street View can be selected to get an actual look at what the street looks like through panoramic photography captured by Google’s fleet of sensor-festooned cars. Now the feature is coming to the realm of virtual reality by way of Google Cardboard.
Google Cardboard is of course the search company’s smaller-budget version of upcoming VR headsets like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive. It relies on taking an ordinary cardboard box, or other rigid type of paper, and folding it according to Google’s free pattern to form a holster for your smartphone to lay in landscape orientation (horizontally).
The holster also contains two separate viewports for your eyes, simulating a virtual reality experience by making your smartphone’s screen appear bifocal, though this only works through select media, namely Google’s Cardboard app. Up until recently, the free Cardboard app for iOS and Android allowed for a few museum tours and “urban hikes” of select locations, as well as some 360-degree video on YouTube. Now much more of the rest of the world (at least the large swaths photographed by Google) will be visible on Cardboard, according to a blog post from Google yesterday.
In addition to Cardboard support, immersive Street View will be available via Google-approved VR sets like the new Mattel View-Master and Zeiss’s VR One. Both are much more expensive than their free Google Cardboard pattern sibling.
Google’s use of Street View in virtual reality isn’t too far off from Facebook’s goal with Oculus, a much-hyped virtual reality startup company founded on Kickstarter that Facebook acquired in 2014. Most VR efforts have been focused towards gaming, but like Google, Facebook saw potential besides immersive first-person shooters and dungeon crawlers—which led to its $2 billion acquisition of the startup. In a statement from Facebook, Zuckerberg proclaimed VR’s use in the social world: “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
Virtual reality will now also be useful for navigation and other location-based services, if Google has anything to say about it.
The addition of Street View to Google Cardboard continues the search company’s trend of constant iteration. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what more will come to the Cardboard app. While a live Street View watchable in VR one day may seem farfetched, the company already has some other ambitious and unconventional ideas in the works, including a massive 360-degree GoPro camera array for capturing virtual reality footage. We expect the Cardboard app to only acquire more features in the coming months and years, and will update you on its progress.