33: Google Cardboard

Google recently unveiled their own humorous take on the recent virtual reality push by folks like Oculus Rift and Sony with their Morpheus project: Cardboard. It’s a simple housing, built from cardboard or similar cheap material, which uses a pair of small lenses coupled with an Android smartphone to display a rudimentary virtual reality view. While they offered a compact and easy to build version at the I/O event, the Cardboard team also offered free vector format data for cutting your own Cardboard device. While most of their instructions involve hand-cutting the cardboard using templates printed on paper (which sounds completely insane to me) they did mention that it works great in laser cutters. Ding!

The chipboard template. It was too thin!
The chipboard template. It was too thin!

Jennifer and I worked together with Rebecca and Josh of hugsarefun.com to put together our own version of Google Cardboard. They sourced the extra bits, like the lenses and super magnets, and we were to make the actual unit body using the template provided by Google.

Before I bothered doing much research, I cut one out of chipboard. The material was way too thin, and while all of the tabs fit nicely the material was too flexible to remain solid. That’s when I saw that Google recommended a minimum thickness of 1.5mm—that chipboard was less than one millimeter, so that wouldn’t do!

The cardboard version was cut from 4mm cardboard. Too thick!
The cardboard version was cut from 4mm cardboard. Too thick!

I tried out some cardboard proper, but while Google recommends E-flute, I only had a much thicker flute available and the resulting piece was so thick that I could barely fit tabs into slots. That wouldn’t work!

A quick trip to a local craft store landed me with some nice black presentation paper that was exactly the right thickness, so that’s what I cut the final body out of. One thing I realized fairly quickly after cutting the presentation board body was that the material much preferred to fold toward the laser-cut score lines. This is the opposite of how Google recommends building it, but I thought that would be fine because it gave me the opportunity to etch some art on the outside of the body.

A nickname for the cardboard, "Virtual Boy Advance."
A nickname for the cardboard, “Virtual Boy Advance.”

Unfortunately, what I didn’t know at the time was that the Cardboard application only allows one horizontal orientation when running, so the phone camera gap in the body was incorrectly positioned thanks to my folding it backwards. We couldn’t find any application use for it, so the problem was moot. A worse problem is that the small magnet on the side, which uses a phone’s magnetometer to recognize “clicks” in the interface, didn’t operate at all when on the wrong side. Because of this, I had to fold the second presentation board body the opposite way, which would definitely have benefited from a few moments taken to score the back surface. Oh well, it worked, and we all tried it out.

We didn't tell her that it needed a phone. She didn't seem to mind!
We didn’t tell her that it needed a phone. She didn’t seem to mind!
We didn't tell him that it needed a phone. He didn't seem to mind!
We didn’t tell him that it needed a phone. He didn’t seem to mind!
I'm fairly sure Jen was smart enough to use it with a cell phone.
I’m fairly sure Jen was smart enough to use it with a cell phone.

There’s no real way for me to convey just how fascinating our first visit to Google’s take on virtual reality was, but once the piece was complete, there were many “oh wow” moments between the five of us who were old enough to try them on.

The entire time, though, my head was filled with ideas. Ideas about 1/16″ bamboo, box joints, and living hinges. I think I’ll have to revisit Google Cardboard some time soon!

Both are cut from presentation board.
Both are cut from presentation board.
One built and one still flat.
One built and one still flat.
The chalkboard is more interesting, evidently!
The chalkboard is more interesting, evidently!

4 thoughts on “33: Google Cardboard”

    1. We’ve cut quite a few things out of bamboo, particularly the jewelry that Jennifer makes available at isette.etsy.com. Unfortunately, the plans I had to create a bamboo version of the cardboard headset was stymied by how complicated making a box-joint variation of Google’s supplied cardboard template was. It’s something I still might want to do in the future, though, and now that we’re going through another 52 projects, I might get there this year. 😉

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