Tomorrow most tech eyes will be on Mountain View for the launch of Google I/O 2017. While we all wonder and try to guess at what new tech Google may unveil this year, several sources are reporting one of the items may be a standalone virtual reality headset. Such a headset will be capable of operating without a connection to a PC or a smartphone. In addition to being a standalone unit, the new headset may also include inside-out positional tracking.
Sources note that Google may have been working on a standalone VR headset for over a year, predating the release of their Daydream at last year’s Google I/O. Daydream is Google’s current VR platform that makes use of high-end smartphones to power the apps and VR experience. The new headset is the next evolution in Google’s VR development and besides building on, expanding and improving the Daydream platform, Google brings in some other technologies.
One component that may be getting added to the new VR platform is Tango, Google’s augmented reality platform. Tango makes use of a variety of sensors to map a room and track the movement of a device through a room. By doing this, it is possible for app developers to add virtual characteristics or features to a space. Sources note that the development team that was behind Tango has been folded into the VR group that was working on Daydream and presumably this new VR platform.
Another piece that could help Google’s efforts to move the VR space forward is a library of VR apps. Two of their top apps were acquisitions including Tiltbrush, a 3D drawing app and Job Simulator from Owlchemy Labs. The other big title is their in-house upgrade of Google Earth to support virtual reality. In an odd twist though, none of these leading VR apps work on the Daydream platform, but they do work on rival platforms like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Besides the standalone nature of the headset, the biggest change could be the inside-out tracking support. This type of positional tracking means the device can detect a user’s movements in physical space, like keeping track of whether they have taken a step forward or backward, tilted their body forward, or squatted down. Many think inside-out positional tracking will be the next major step forward for the virtual reality market, which is why all the major players are working on implementing it into their platforms. That includes Facebook’s Oculus unit, offerings from HTC and Microsoft and potentially even Acer or HP. To some extent, inside-out tracking is already supported by Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but they rely on external devices to track movement. Making this part of the VR unit itself is where the Tango technology could have a big impact.
Google has not commented on their plans to show a new headset at Google I/O. If they do not and limit themselves to their current Daydream platform, it would not be the first time such rumors failed to pan out. We should find out tomorrow whether Google is ready to announce a big step in the VR space.