Google allows you to explore Street View in virtual reality

Google Cardboard users can now explore Street View in 3D, thanks to a new virtual reality app

Google has announced that its popular Street View mapping service is now available as a virtual reality app, allowing users to explore real-world scenes in 3D using a Cardboard headset.

First released in 2014, Google Cardboard is a virtual reality headset that costs around £10 and can be made fron scratch using a smartphone, a sheet of cardboard, a pair of clear lenses, a rubber band and some Velcro.

Originally only available for Android phones, Google launched a software development kit (SDK) for iOS in May, along with a new educational programme called Expeditions, allowing children to go on immersive virtual journeys to the bottom of the sea or the surface of Mars using Cardboard.

Google also teamed up with toy maker Mattel in February to integrate its virtual reality Cardboard technology into the company’s iconic View-Master stereoscope, allowing users to take virtual “field trips” and explore famous places, landmarks, nature, planets and more in 360 degree “photospheres”.

The new Street View virtual reality app, which is available on both iOS and Android, is intended to “bring the world just a little bit closer to everyone”, according to Google software engineer Brandon Wuest, allowing users to explore locations a bit closer to home.

The introduction of Street View is part of a broader update to the Cardboard SDK, intended to overcome some of the problems reported by developers, Mr Wuest said in a blog post.

“This update includes a major overhaul of the sensor fusion algorithms that integrate the signals from the gyroscope and accelerometer,” he said. “These improvements substantially decrease drift, especially on phones with lower-quality sensors.”

 An attendee inspects Google Cardboard during the 2015 Google I/O conference

Virtual reality has been enjoying a resurgence over the past year, after Facebook bought Oculus VR in 2014, and Sony, Samsung and HTC all launched their own headsets.

Analysts at CCS Insight predict that 2.5m virtual and augmented reality devices will be sold this year, rising to over 24m in 2018. While gaming is the low-hanging fruit for virtual reality devices, video, entertainment and user-generated content will also drive adoption, the company said.

“Most consumers find virtual reality a mind-blowing experience the first time they try it. We believe it has tremendous potential and it’s not just about expensive high-end devices such as the Oculus Rift,” said Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight.

“For only a few dollars, consumers can dip their toe in the water with an inexpensive cardboard holder for a compatible smartphone. We expect this democratisation of the technology to deliver growth not just in affluent, mature markets but also in emerging markets where smartphone penetration is stronger than ever.”

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