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It's "Build Night" at TechShop Chandler, and tonight's project is a DodoCase Virtual Reality Viewer...

I have to admit that when I signed up for this event, I hadn't a clue what I was getting into because I'd never heard of these things. Boy, have I been missing out - this amazing stuff!

The concept is simple enough - insert your smartphone into a "ViewMaster" style holder and use it as a heads-up display. The display becomes split-screen for left-eye, right-eye and three are a pair of focusing lenses to complete the close-up 3D effect. Using a accelerometer / gyroscope in the phone, the app detects when you turn, tilt, and rotate your head.

There are several apps that let you navigate a spherical picture by simply turning your head. The ones we tried had moving objects in them (like a space whale!). There's also a magnetic "switch" that works like the lever on an old-school ViewMaster. As a photographer, this offers a fantastic potential for viewing spherical photos!

Viewing seems to fall in one of 2 categories - virtual reality (i.e., full immersion) and augmented reality where VR gets mixed with live video from the video camera.

An example of the augmented reality is a giant QR code printed on a sheet of paper - viewing it with the camera, a village pops up in 3D right in the middle of the table. Getting closer, you can see people moving around in the village, and moving around edges of the paper changed the vantage point - like the reverse of being inside the sphere.

Step 1: The Unboxing

The kit from DodoCase comes complete with die-cut parts, adhesive strips, etc. to complete the entire project. The only thing we added was vinyl sheet to trim the exterior.

Step 2: Figuring It Out

Quick fit-up to figure out how this thing folds into a viewer. Yep... had to read the instructions, but they're well-written. ;-)

Step 3: Assembling the "optics"

The kit comes with a pair of plastic lenses. They're held into the frame using a pair of adhesive discs.

Step 4: Trimming the Shell

Entirely optional... we dressed up our viewer with a sheet of adhesive vinyl sheet. Just stick it down before adding the velcro for the enclosure.

Step 5: Trim the Vinyl

The vinyl trims easily with a sharp box cutter. Rough cut on the table, then trim closer free-hand. Don't cut the openings for the slots, but do cut the two larger oval openings for the "switch" and the camera port.

Step 6: NFC Tag

The kit includes a near-field communications (NFC) tag - a pretty sizable one, and the label says it's high-capacity. This isn't essential for the VR experience, but I'm guessing it must be used by some of the apps to store data that stays with the viewer, regardless of whose phone you're using it with. (e.g., your option settings, or your place in a landscape).

Step 7: Assembly

It's not too hard - just 3 pieces of cardboard. They even include the strips of tape to assemble it. A pair of magnets create a very clever "switch" on the left side, not unlike the lever on an old ViewMaster stereo photo viewer. The switch changes a magnetic field near a spot on phones that can detect it.

Step 8: The Finished Project

Fully assembled.

The kit is missing one obvious part - a head strap. We grabbed some elastic strip and threaded it through the assembly slots on each side (not pictured).

Step 9: Potential Applications

* An alternative to Quicktime QTVR photo navigation, enabling you to view spherical panorama photos (which are created using special stitching software like PTGui to assemble a collage of photos). I like the idea of shooting photos like this, but today they're limited to being viewed online with a flash-based viewer. An immersive experience would be so much better!

* Bringing board games and role-playing games to life! Imagine playing Chutes & Ladders interactively in 3D. And then, being able to play remotely, because players wouldn't need to be in the same room.

* Or, tabletop role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons. Imagine rolling out a giant QR-printed tablecloth and having a 3D landscape appear in front of you. Move a token on the tablecloth, and your character's projection follows it - and all the other players' characters are projected as well. Everyone gets their own 3D view of the playing field, whether they're in the same room or across the Internet!

Do you suggest any AR apps?
<p>Very neat! Looks like you had a fun build night, and got something pretty neat out of it!</p>

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