Google is consistently at the forefront of emerging technologies, so it’s no surprise that they continue to advance the uses and applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality. At the Google I/O conference in San Francisco earlier this year, the company announced their continuing commitment to investing in technologies that will make VR and AR more useful and more readily accessible to the general population.
Last October, Google launched Daydream View, which is a lightweight, easy to use Virtual Reality headset intended primarily for use with Android devices. Most newer Android phones already support Daydream, and more are on the way, including Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+. LG also plans to release a Daydream-compatible phone later this year.
Daydream View will soon also support standalone Virtual Reality headsets, which will eliminate the need for a mobile phone, tablet or PC, making it easier to access and enjoy VR experiences. The headset’s hardware is fully optimized for Virtual Reality, and includes WorldSense, which is Google’s new position-tracking technology that eliminates the need for external sensors to pinpoint geographical locations. Google, along with Qualcomm Technologies, is also working on a reference design for standalone headsets. The blueprint that results will give Google Partners and Google Certified Developers a framework for designing the next generation of VR headsets.
For the past several years, Google has also been experimenting with Tango, which is a core technology for both VR and AR that tracks motion and interprets real world spatial distances with incredible accuracy. Used in Virtual Reality applications, Tango is at the heart of WorldSense’s position tracking system. Tango enhances Augmented Reality experiences by overlaying digitally-created objects against a real world background without relying upon GPS or external sensors.
Taiwan-based ASUS recently introduced its new ZenFone AR, which combines Tango technology with Daydream View-equipped headsets. Compatible with both Google Tango Augmented Reality and DayDream View Virtual Reality, the ZenFone AR is the first phone capable of providing both AR and VR experiences with the same device. The just-released phone, which has a 5.7 inch display, 23 mega-pixel camera and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, represents the very latest in Tango AR mobile phone technology.
Tango is also an integral part of Google’s new Visual Positioning Service (VPS), which allows devices to pinpoint the user’s exact location indoors where GPS technology doesn’t function. Visual Positioning gives the user graphically displayed directions to his or her destination, such as a specific suite or laboratory location within a building or seating section in a sports arena or concert venue. Visual Positioning Service is already being used in museums and galleries to direct visitors to the exhibits that interest them. Some Lowe’s retail outlets are using VPS to direct shoppers to a department or even to a specific product within that department. Look for the use of Tango enhanced VPS to expand significantly over the next few years.
VR and AR in the Classroom
Tango technologies also have a significant place in education. Using Google Expeditions with the Cardboard VR platform, over two million students have taken virtual “field trips”, and that number is growing. Named for Google’s inexpensive, head mounted viewing device, Cardboard VR attaches to a mobile phone, which lets the user enjoy hands-free VR experiences. Through Expeditions, students can explore exotic locations they are unable to physically visit, such as the surface of Mars, Amazon Rain Forest or the interior of the International Space Station, all without leaving the classroom.
As a part of their Immersive Education program, Google plans to use Expeditions AR to also bring Augmented Reality to schools later this year. Unlike VR where students are taken on virtual field trips, Google Expeditions lets instructors bring digitally-scanned, 3-dimensiional representations of real-life objects into the classroom. Students can move around, interact with and explore the object from all angles by simply putting on the Cardboard viewer. Students will be able to tour the Louvre, stand at the base of Egypt’s pyramids or examine the Elgin Marbles without visiting the British Museum.
The Future of AR and VR
Although still in experimental stages, Google recently released an AR Application Program Interface (API) for Chromium, its open source web browser project. One prediction is that the Chromium Browser will allow users to experience Augmented or Virtual Reality directly from a website. Releasing the API will undoubtedly result in innovative new Augmented Reality applications and uses limited only by the imagination.
Google’s stated mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible. Look for them to continue to do just that.