How-to Make a DIY Google Cardboard "Oculus Thrift"

7/13/2014 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments


One of the bigger surprises at this year's Google I/O was the mysterious appearance of Google Cardboard.  Sundar Pichai announced that he would be giving a Cardboard kit to everyone in attendance, mentioning that he would be excited to see what developers would come up with.

There were not any details given during the keynote, so it didn't come out until after developers had gotten a chance to play around with Cardboard that it was a light VR kit some have dubbed an "Oculous Thrift."

Although there is very little functionality so for--only a handful of "preview" apps are available within the Cardboard app--I'm definitely excited for more support.  Some gaming apps would be really cool, but I'm frankly more excited for Netflix and other media player support.  A full 1080p cinematic experience with a DIY VR kit is a very enticing concept.

I excitedly ordered a Cardboard kit from DODO case (kits are also available on Amazon), but it is a 4-6 week delivery window, and I've gotten impatient, so I undertook making my own DIY Cardboard kit from scratch.  My objective was to make it entirely using materials I had around the house.  I had to improvise a little, but I ended with success.

First of all, the entire Google Cardboard plan can be downloaded from Google here.  This will need to be printed out (in actual size) to provide a schematic for the kit.  Beyond the printed plans, several other items will be necessary.  I was lucky enough to have everything I needed, but some light shopping might be needed for some people.

Cardboard - This is pretty straightforward.  Any cardboard will do (so long as it isn't too thick).  I used the lid of a printer paper box.

Biconvex Lenses (2) - This may be more difficult.  I was lucky enough to be able to use a childhood toy, the View-Master.  The lenses in this will do fine, but it will require destroying the toy.

If you don't have a View-Master, aren't able to scrounge up any other household item with similar lenses, or don't want to destroy old toys, you can also find the lenses you need on Amazon if you don't have what you need around your house.  They can be found here, and here.

Magnets - The cardboard designs call for some very specific magnets, but I found I could make due with some refrigerator magnets.  Obviously, the official magnets will work far better, but again, this is what I had in my house.  You can find something closer to spec here.


Razor Blades - I have razor blades available for a utility knife.  They are a little fatter than would have been convenient, but they got the job done.  X-Acto blades would be better.  You can get those here.  Several will be necessary, as they dull quickly on cardboard.

NFC Tag (optional) - I've had a package of Samsung TecTile NFC stickers sitting around for years without knowing what to use them for.  The NFC tag is optional, but if you want one, and you don't happen to have any sitting around, they are super cheap to order on Amazon.


Glue - I just used Elmer's glue.  Really any adhesive will work.  This is just to adhere the diagram to the cardboard.  Something that will not remain tacky after it dries (like rubber cement) is necessary, since you will be cutting through it.  You can also buy some Elmer's glue on Amazon if you need, although I don't know who would need to do that.  Who buys Elmer's glue online?  I only provided a link for the sake of consistency, but seriously.

Step 1 - Print schematics and align on your cardboard

This is pretty straightforward.  Just make sure each piece can be cut in its entirety from your cardboard.  The paper prints out in several pieces, so you will need to make sure you trim and line up divided sections.  I trimmed excess off of each section and taped the pieces together at the seams.  I also lined up some of the fold lines along areas of my cardboard that was already folded, but you can work with your cardboard in whatever way works best for you.


Step 2 - Adhere schematic to cardboard

Like I said above, I just used Elmer's glue here.  A simple zig-zag across the back of the paper is plenty, it just needs to be tacked down evenly so it stays in place when you start cutting.  If you use a wet glue (like the Elmer's) you will need to give it plenty of time to dry so the paper does't tear when you try to cut it.


Step 3 - Wait for the glue to dry

This is a bunch of small preparation steps, but as I already said, if you use a wet glue, then it has to dry before you start cutting.  Fortunately, there are a bunch of intermediate steps that need to occur before you move forward anyway, which is convenient.

First, remove the lenses (if you are obtaining them from a View-Master or some other item).  This is fairly easy.  I just slipped a butter knife in a crack in the casing and rotated slowly around the perimeter of the seam until the two halves had separated.  After that, it's just a matter of popping the lenses through.  There are brackets on the inside, so you may want to crack those, just be careful not to scratch or crack the lenses themselves.


Of course, if you are less ceremonious, you can always just cut through or smash the rest of the case to get them out...

Next, more breaking.  I just smashed through the plastic clips of my magnets with a screwdriver an hammer (pushing the magnet out the back).  Obviously this step will vary based on how you obtained your magnets.


Then, you want to program your NFC sticker, if you chose to use one (the NFC sticker is not necessary for Cardboard to function).  I used a free app called NFC Tools.  All you have to do is scan the sticker, tap the Write tab, tap Add a Record, select Custom URL, enter cardboard://v.1.0.0, and then tap Write, at which point it will ask you to scan the tag again to complete the write


Step 4 - Cut and fold

This step is simple, it's just very time consuming.  Carefully cut out all the areas that are defined by black lines.  Be sure to score each spot several times before cutting all the way through, and change to a fresh blade frequently.  Cardboard is corrugated, so deep cuts with dull blades will cause it to bunch and then tear.


After every single piece is cut, you will have 3 separate units, the body, the "goggles" and a third divider piece.  Be sure to crisply cut each tab and slot, since that's what keeps the frame held firmly together.  Once each component is cut, you are ready to start the folding.


I started by making sure each and every red line was folded before folding it up all the way.  You may want to use a ruler or other straight edge to make sure your folds are even along the red lines.


Step 5 - Finishing touches

Once all the red lines are folded, you are ready to fold the unit up.  I had to refer to the Google Cardboard page repeatedly here.  As you scroll down the page, you can see the kit fold up step by step.  Obviously, the right side works slightly differently with this kit.  The goggles and vertical piece are separate, but it's fairly obvious where they go if you fold step by step (also be sure to properly place the lenses and magnets at this time).

I fastened everything together with tape.  The instructions say to attach the top edge with velcro, but I didn't have any velcro available.  You can obviously improvise a fastener for the front flap however you want.  Your phone rests in there, so it needs to be solid, but it also needs to be easy to release and refasten.


Put any finishing touches on at this point.  Make sure any weak joints are taped and the magnets are properly placed (the one on the inside may need to be glued or taped, but the outer magnet is meant to slide in the slot).  Also, place the NFC tag on the inside of the front flap so it's along the back of your phone.  Different phones use different NFC sensor locations, so be sure to place it appropriately.


Now all that's left is to download the cardboard app and play around!  It's important to note that your eyes need to focus properly in order for the images to line up.  You may see double at first, but as you adjust your depth of focus (you may need to focus at a point further away than the phone actually is), you should see clearly.

Play around.  Everyone's vision is slightly different.  The distance between your eyes will obviously make an impact (Cardboard is only one size, but not necessarily one size fits all).  I did get a headache when I was done with this, but to be fair, I tried to use the View-Master goggles half for a while prior to giving in and doing the whole project.  The distance was not optimized for Cardboard and my eyes got super crossed.


So there you have it.  Pretty cool, eh?  I had fun playing with mine.  Now it will likely sit on a shelf until I can use it with Netflix, then I'll probably paint it, add a head strap, and never take it off.

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