Turn your smartphone into a virtual reality headset

Google’s revealed plans to turn your smartphone into a cheap-as-chips virtual reality headset. All you need is a cardboard box, and a trip down the hardware shop.

Virtual reality's kind of a big deal right now. The headlines have been chock-full of excitable reports about the Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus, which sit on your head and track movement to provide the illusion of actually being in 3D space when playing games. We've tried it - it's pretty amazing.

So yes, VR is by most accounts, the Next Big Thing™, but as it turns out, you may not have to splash out on expensive technology to experience it. A new project announced by Google this week will let you try it out today - all you need is an Android smartphone, a cardboard box and a few other odds and ends from the hardware store.

It's called Google Cardboard, and here's how it works. Essentially, you build the headset out of the box, and sit a phone inside it. Load up a compatible app and you're good to go. For example, with Google Earth, you can explore a city like Paris or London, simply by turning your head.

Cardboard came about as a result of Google's '20 Percent Project', which encourages employees to spend a fifth of their time working on their own personal side projects. It's a way to drive innovation, and occasionally throws out wacky ideas like this one.

"Virtual reality has made exciting progress over the past several years. However, developing for VR still requires expensive, specialised hardware," Google explains. "Thinking about how to make VR accessible to more people, a group of VR enthusiasts at Google experimented with using a smartphone to drive VR experiences."

"By making it easy and inexpensive to experiment with VR, we hope to encourage developers to build the next generation of immersive digital experiences and make them available to everyone."

Fun stuff, and potentially a great way to introduce people to the concept of virtual reality. Having said that, there's an enormous difference between dedicated virtual reality systems and cobbled-together tech like this. Facebook's not going to be regretting its $2billion (£1.2billion) purchase of Oculus Rift on the basis of Cardboard, put it that way.

Still, it's another example of the versatility of today's smartphones, and worth a go if you're co-ordinated enough to build the thing. You can get instructions on how to make a Google Cardboard headset right here.

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