Virtual reality is all the rage these days. Well, that is, apart from the fact that you can't yet buy any of the most talked-about VR hardware. But if a just so crazy it might work Google project has its way, we might all soon be walking around with homemade VR headsets made on the cheap. Meet Google Cardboard.

Nope, this isn't one of Google's famous April Fools' jokes. Google Cardboard is very much real, was announced at Google I/O and is listed as an experimental project for developers. With the right materials – including some corrugated cardboard, a pair of lenses, magnets, velcro, a rubber band and (optionally) an NFC tag – you too can own your own virtual reality headset.

The only other thing you'll need is an Android phone to slide into this bad boy. Once VR-friendly Android apps start popping up, their feed will, as you might expect, display on your smartphone's screen. Looking at that feed through the lenses will create something akin to the 360-degree effect that Oculus has revitalized in the last couple of years.

The idea here is to skip the expensive and hyped hardware (Oculus was bought by Facebook earlier this year for US$2 billion) and get some Android-powered VR hardware into as many hands as possible. But before the focus shifts to regular ol' Android users, Google needs to focus on developers, to start making some VR-friendly Android software.

While Google's focus, as is often the case, is on this open and inexpensive solution, this could actually be a pretty savvy long-term business move. Facebook's Oculus and Sony (along with, most likely, many other companies with unannounced projects) are soon going to be duking it out for the early lead in virtual reality, but Google is trying to sneak in through the backdoor. The company could use a) its massive Android userbase and b) the dirt-cheap nature of this project, to quickly establish Android as a hotbed for VR software. If that works, I suspect it could pave the way for premium (you know, not made of cardboard) VR headsets that work in a similar manner. And, like so many other things, it would all run through Android.

But that's getting way ahead of things, as Google Cardboard is still early days. This is easily one of the most crazy-pants ideas to come out of Mountain View in some time, but I always thought that those kinds of ideas showcased Google at its best. Even if Cardboard ultimately gets chucked into the recycling bin, it still gives me faith that the search giant's founding spirit is alive and kicking.

You can read more – not to mention download the design files and SDK – at the developers' page below.

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