Google shows off standalone Daydream VR headsets

There's a strong argument to be made that current virtual-reality hardware isn't easy enough to set up and use. At its I/O event this week, Google shed some light on two upcoming products that aim to make augmented and virtual reality easier to dive into and more comfortable to use: a standalone VR headset and a smartphone equipped with augmented-reality tools.

The new VR headsets will be part of the Daydream platform and will pack Google's latest inside-out tracking technology. Unlike current offerings, the new headsets won't require users to snap in a smartphone. Everything the user needs is built into the device. While the company didn't detail how the device is controlled, its demo video shows a child simply moving her head to play a simple game, and preliminary product sketches appear to show the small controller that currently ships with Daydream headsets.

Google collaborated with Qualcomm on the reference design for the standalone headset, suggesting that a Snapdragon SoC of some sort is likely under the hood. HTC and Lenovo both have commercial designs for the headset that will ship later this year.

On the augmented reality side of things, Google is continuing its work with the Tango project it announced at CES 2016. The Tango technology will make its next appearance in the Asus ZenFone AR, which is due out this summer. The device will showcase an augmented-reality tool that Google calls "Visual Position Service," enabling devices to rapidly determine their location indoors. The tech is already usable in certain museums and Lowe's hardware stores, where the devices can help users find exactly what they're looking for in a large building.

Google also offered some thoughts on its long-term goals for where it thinks "immersive" reality needs to go. Primarily, the company is worried about the "friction" between users and devices. Making a standalone, cordless VR headset starts to address this problem, but the company acknowledges that streamlining the user experience will require a lot more work. Google thinks that technologies like eye-tracking will go a long way toward improving usability. The company also sees considerable room for improving headsets' underlying hardware, singling out displays in particular. It notes that a "retina" VR display would require about 30 times more pixels than today's displays can output.

Google's I/O event isn't done yet, so there's likely more information on the way about the company's VR and AR devices. We're told that information on new software for Daydream and Tango and developer tools is upcoming. As HTC, Lenovo, and Asus get their devices closer to market, more details should emerge.

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