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 cooler 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 around virtual spaces. And in the meantime, it might just be enough to get into motorsports.