Google Cardboard and its ilk are proving that virtual reality isn't just the realm of the Oculus Rift; you can do wonders with not much more than a phone and a couple of lenses. I saw some proof of that this morning, when I rode shotgun in a motorsports rally by strapping a phone to my face.
The just-released Subaru Motorsports app (Android, iOS) has plenty of goodies, but its coolest trick is feeding you fully-interactive, pannable, 3D videos of cool cars going really fast, thanks to 360-degree camera mounts. This is not exactly new, but it's still pretty rad. And it gets even radder when you throw VR into the mix.
What I got to watch is an early version of the app's upcoming functionality, which VR-ifies these videos by splitting them into two separate eye-streams. All you need is a case that will strap your phone face. Basically, it's a Google Cardboard app, and it's awesome.
In one, I was sitting shotgun next to Bucky Lasek at the X Games, and being able to turn and look around the inside of a car speeding down the track was blast. In another, I got to survey a beautiful mountaintop at high-speed from a top-mounted rig, and glance back to follow the shreds of a tire as they flew backwards after a blowout. It was nuts.
A 2D-er version of what I had in my face
The feature will roll out to the Subaru Motorsports app as soon as its developers feel like there are enough strap-a-smartphone-to-your-face solutions to give it an audience. And it's good to know that when they do, there'll be more to do than just play a few gimmicky games or take Street View tours of museums.
For now, all the footage you'll be able to watch is pre-recorded, but I was told it was totally possible (if not likely quite yet) to broadcast footage live. It's easy to see how a few years down the line, when cheap smartphone-powered headsets like this one — and more intense solutions like the Oculus Rift — are ubiquitous, their applications will go far, far beyond gaming and wandering aroundvirtual spaces. And in the meantime it might just be enough to get into motorsports.