Google Cardboard, which was announced as a bit of a sideshow at this year's Google I/O and quickly brushed off as a gimmick, turns out to be pretty cool: it converts many Android phones into fully functional VR headsets with basically a few dollars' worth of materials. If you're enterprising enough, you can even make the Cardboard kit yourself — Google offers instructions on how to do it. It's no Oculus Rift, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper and more accessible.
Now, Volvo might be the first company to turn Cardboard into a serious marketing tool: it's sending out Volvo-branded Cardboards to drum up hype for the upcoming launch of its redesigned XC90 SUV. The paper goggles are paired with an Android app (there's an iOS version coming soon) that takes you in and around the XC90's cockpit on a leisurely drive, accompanied to music. The experience is divided into multiple "episodes," so you can see what it's like owning a Swedish truck in different environments and at different times of day — only one episode is available at launch, with more to come. The Cardboard unit itself appears to be identical to the plain brown one Google offered at I/O, just dyed black and covered in Volvo branding.
We had a chance to play with "Volvo Reality" today, and it's definitely cool: you can look a full 360 degrees around from the driver's seat of the vehicle, and I was a little surprised by how immersed I felt. It falls short on resolution, and you're not going to make a buying decision on this alone — the whole experience is pretty fuzzy, grainy, and inaccurate — but as a pure marketing tool simply to get the XC90 in peoples' minds, it's clever. Several people who tried it in our office found that it wasn't tracking very well, but it's probably as much the fault of the Nexus 5 we were using as the host smartphone as the Volvo app itself.
The app and Cardboard are both free; you'll be able to request a Cardboard through the app starting on November 18th, though Volvo notes that supplies are limited. Once you have it, you'll be able to use it for any app that's Cardboard-enabled — not just Volvo Reality — though you'll be stuck with the Volvo branding, of course.