Build Your Own VR Kit With Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard VR

Last year at the annual Google I/O conference, Google Cardboard was introduced to the world. David Coz and Damien Henry (both Google engineers at the Google Cultural Institute) created the low-cost VR headset as a result of their Innovation Time Off.

As a motivation technique, Google uses a policy often called Innovation Time Off, where Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time on projects that interest them. Some of Google’s newer services, such as Gmail, Google News, Orkut, and AdSense originated from these independent endeavors.

Google didn’t mass produce these headsets but rather supplied the specifications and what materials are needed on their website to build the device yourself. This may prove to be a stroke of genius by Google (more on this later).

Build Google Cardboard Yourself

The device itself can be constructed out of low-cost, everyday items. The headset is made up of the following components:

  • A piece of cardboard cut in a very specific way
  • 45 mm focal length lenses (2)
  • A magnet
  • Velcro
  • Rubber Band
  • NFC tag (optional)
    • The NFC tag enables Cardboard apps to automatically run once the phone is placed inside the headset.

You can download the official Google Cardboard Kit here. The kit comes with several files including guidelines, a die cut template, laser cut template, scissor cut template, and more.

Google’s guidelines detail the specs required to build a kit that seamlessly works with your mobile device. When Cardboard was first announced, it supported screens up to 5.7 inches but now the headset can fit devices with screens up to 6 inches.

Google has put a lot of effort into making the assembly and use of the device as easy as possible. There is a viewer profile generator you can use to ensure a smooth experience with the VR headset and to iron out your devices key parameters.

How It Works

Once you have the headset assembled, a smartphone is simply placed in front of the lenses and held in place with a rubber band. An Google Cardboard compatible app is then executed on your phone to split the viewing area into two sections (one for each eye). The 45 mm lenses and the barrel distorted dual display (generated by the app on your device) create the effect of  a stereoscopic 3D image. The lenses also help to create a wide field of view for a really cool VR experience.

If DIY Isn’t Your Thing

If you are not the DIY type and prefer to buy things outright, there are several manufacturers that have created their own versions of the low-cost headset. Google has featured a few of these manufacturers and the headsets on their site. Prices range from $14.99 – $85 depending on the manufacturer and materials used.


The KNOX ALUMINUM VR VIEWER is pictured above and is the only fabricated VR headset featuring an aluminum body with wood accents. This headset will run you about $85 and can be purchased from Knox Labs.

You can view many other manufacturer’s versions of the headset on Google Cardboard’s website.

Software Support

There are several Google Cardboard compatible applications available in the Play Store currently. Here is a list of some apps you can download as well as videos to enjoy the VR experience of Google Cardboard:

I came across this video on Youtube from TechUHD that demonstrates a few cool Google Cardboard apps:

Google Cardboard Is A Stroke Of Genius

As I previously stated, creating a VR headset in such a way that is so low cost and super easy to build has given the VR headset a greater chance at reaching a broader audience. This may have been Google’s motive behind the project all along. This angle could lure more developers to spend time working in the VR realm and help push the VR  realm of possibilities to new heights.

VR is no new player in the ever changing world of technology and gaming. In the ’80’s, Sega released VR glasses that brought a rudimentary 3D effect to gaming consoles. This was a very primitive entry into the VR chronology, but a notable mention. Then came Nintendo’s Virtual Boy (I still have nightmares about being stuck in a world where everything is rendered in black and red….*shudders violently), followed by a slew of VR arcade machines.

The point is, VR has always been a lucrative idea. Immerse the player in a world where you can’t tell if it’s real or simulated and create worlds players will never want to leave, right? Problem is, technology has not been able to match our imaginations and the whole VR experience typically has fallen on it’s face (just ask Sega and Nintendo).

I’m not saying Google Cardboard is the savior of all things VR, here to take the idea to the promised land. Rather, it’s a great idea in generating as much attention as it can and getting VR into the hands of as many users as possible. Sure, I know there is the Occulus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus and I’m sure those platforms will do amazing. I just like the idea behind Google’s initiative here and hope it produces amazing results in the VR realm.

Gather up the kiddos this weekend and build a VR kit from Google. Go download one of the cool Cardboard apps from the Play Store and have some cheap fun. In the end, that’s what these things are all about.

Do you plan on building one of these kits? Have you already done so? I would love to hear about it! Post your stories or share your experiences in the comments below!

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