Don't throw the box away: Smartphone packaging may transform into a VR viewer

daydream on the galaxy s8
Google’s made no secret of its ambitions to carve out a slice of the virtual reality market. It’s shipped more than 10 million of its low-cost Cardboard devices for smartphones and launched its high-end Daydream platform in 2016. A new patent from the search giant, though, envisions a far more scalable solution: device packaging that can double as a VR viewer.

The patent in question, “Integrated mobile device packaging and virtual reality headset,” was originally filed in February 2016 and describes a box that folds along perforated lines into a headset. It’s constructed from cardboard and heavy paper stock, held together with a combination of glue and tape, and packs a pair of lenses — one for each eye.

Road to VR speculates it could be related to new Google job postings for a VR engineer, lead product designer, and hardware validation manager. In 2016, Engadget reported Google was working on a VR headset that “[integrates] eye-tracking and [uses] sensors and algorithms to map out the real-world space in front of a user.” The project was said to be “separate from the company’s Daydream VR platform.”

google vr viewer patent cardboard headset smartphone packaging 2 640x360

Google is not the first to integrate a VR viewer into packaging — McDonald’s, for example, recently shipped a Happy Meal box that folded into “Happy Goggles” — but VR-equipped box align’s with the company’s broader mission of attracting “hundreds of millions of [Android] users” to VR. At Google’s I/O development conference in 2016, it announced plans to build a “multi-billion dollar business” out of Daydream, a VR platform that combines a motion controller, flagship hardware, and software from hundreds of partners to deliver a “premium” virtual reality experience.

“The hope is that if in five years we’re collectively working on another frontier technology, that we can look back and say again that we’ve created value [with Daydream],” Brahim Elbouchikhi, senior product manager on the Google VR team, said at I/O. “[Our] intention is to operate at Android scale.”

To that end, Google’s VR efforts extend beyond hardware. In February, Google’s Research division showed off a project that leverages 3D computer vision, machine learning, green screen technology, and advanced rendering methods to show a person’s facial expressions inside a mixed reality environment. And in March, YouTube announced it is working to make 360-degree and VR video “better” with improved rendering technologies that “display [content] without using more bandwidth than necessary.”

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