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Some assembly required: Google debuts "Cardboard" VR headset at I/O conference

A curiously thin cardboard box was tucked away amongst the goodies given to attendees at this week's Google I/O keynote conference.

Not a stray bit of packaging, this was part of the construction kit for Google's new project, "Cardboard", named unimaginatively after what it's made from (ahem, Google Glass). When opened, the box showed a laser-cut, labelled piece of cardboard with instructions on how to fold it into a binocular-style construction.

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More of an arts project than the average developer would be used to, conference attendees could easily put together their Cardboard with their kits, which also contained lenses, Velcro, rubber band and magnets. Coupled with the insertion of a smartphone as a display and download of the free Cardboard app, users could experience demos of a Google Earth fly over, a drive through Paris and a YouTube video viewing.

Described as a "no frills enclosure that transforms a phone into a basic VR headset" on the project's Google Developers page, Cardboard is essentially the much younger sibling of an Oculus Rift-style virtual reality viewer.

Created in-house by two Google employees at the Paris Google Cultural Institute as a cheap technique of using virtual reality, their working prototype inspired a large group to make a more user-friendly, simplistic device. At an experimental level, this is a fun and different way for developers to investigate virtual reality.

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Google also warns that the toolkit's contents may break without warning, which is unsurprising as the contents are more likely to turn up on a list of stationary items than in a developer's toolbox.

Not to worry if you weren't amidst the lucky few to grab one at the conference, you can build your own using design files and instructions on the Google Cardboard website.