Using Google’s Daydream VR Headset for Augmented Reality and Positional Tracking Applications


When paired with suitable higher-end Google, Samsung, or various other brands of smartphones, the Google Daydream VR headset (currently in its second generation “2017” version, which is the version I’m discussing in this post) offers an extremely inexpensive path for “virtual reality” and other related experiences and experiments (the headset sometimes goes on sale for as little as $50).

In addition to of course being able to display Daydream-compatible VR apps, when a suitable Samsung phone is used it is also possible (via an interesting sequence of actions) to use many Oculus/Samsung Gear VR headset apps with the Daydream headset as well (feel free to contact me if you’re interested in the details on this).

At first glance (no pun intended) one would assume that Daydream headsets are unsuitable for “augmented reality” VR applications that require use of the phone camera, since the Daydream flap that holds the phone in place completely blocks the back of the phone and the camera lens.

This also seemingly eliminates the possibility of Daydream headset experimentation with “inside-out” 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) positional tracking applications, which could otherwise leverage the phone’s camera and Google’s “ARCore” platform to provide these capabilities that conventionally have only been available with far more expensive VR headsets.

We might consider cutting a hole through the rather thick flap of the headset (which also includes an integral heat sink — important when the flap is closed), but that’s messy at best, risks accidentally damaging embedded NFC tags, and is dependent on the exact position of the camera lens for any specific phone.

So here’s my alternative that requires zero modification of the Daydream headset itself, and only a few simple parts to achieve — an elastic strap to hold the phone in place with the flap of the headset left open and the phone camera lens exposed for use. The completed strap is simple to install or remove from the headset at any time, since the flap can be pulled outward to create a gap for this purpose.

To view a set of photos showing the assembly sequence and the finished design, please visit:

https://lauren.vortex.com/daydream-mods

I used a piece of elastic that already had a plastic catch on the end of suitable size to hold the elastic in place under the flap hinge. Alternatively almost anything of similar dimensions could be attached to a strip of elastic to achieve the same result.

You simply slide the completed assembly between the flap of the headset and the main part of the headset, strap in the phone, and you’re ready to go. I originally tested this using a metal washer, but decided that even wrapped in tape there was some risk of scratching the phone. A better protected metal washer would probably be fine. I printed up a custom-sized plastic washer to use instead.

The elastic holds the phone in place quite snugly, though with enough violent head motion it might be possible to force the phone to slide out from under the elastic. It should be straightforward to slip little barriers on the sides to avoid this, or simply avoid violent head motions! Also keep in mind that you don’t want to apply significant downward pressure to the open flap, since that would risk potentially breaking the plastic supports that keep it from falling further open.

Anyway, it’s really just the elastic, the washer, and several small cable ties!

OK, it’s a hack. No apologies.

If you have any questions, please let me know!

And of course, be seeing you.

–Lauren–

Google’s Lightning-Fast Response to My “Trusted Contacts” Concerns


Very recently I discussed my concerns regarding several issues related to Google’s “Trusted Contacts” service. Trusted Contacts permits users to send their current location data to other users as notifications.

The situation was triggered when I suddenly began receiving such location data notifications from somebody I’d never heard of in Africa. Address typos? Trying to attract my attention for some other reason? I dunno.

But stopping those emailed notifications was easier said than done, because it turned out that there was no way to do so from a web page, and the only available mechanism to block them was usable only via the Trusted Contacts smartphone app that needed to be installed, which required enabling of Location History which I don’t ordinarily use. After installing the app (which I had no personal interest in installing otherwise, and which of course a person without a suitable smartphone would not have been able to do) I was ultimately able to stop the notifications. Not a good user experience.

Since then, I’ve already been contacted directly by Google’s privacy and maps teams about these issues, and they’ve now implemented the means for users to easily unsubscribe from such notifications via a web page — without the need for installing an app. Other very useful changes related to the issues that I identified are apparently in the pipeline for availability.

My great thanks to the Google teams involved for so rapidly reaching out to me regarding these matters, and especially for the ultra-quick implementation of the web-based Trusted Contacts notifications unsubscribe tool that is now available to desktop users!

–Lauren–

Google Predictably Makes a Confused Jumble Out of New YouTube, Music Offerings


An old saying suggests that the only inevitabilities are death and taxes.  When it comes to Google, there are a couple more that we can add. Google will likely always have an array of often incompatible and overlapping “chat” programs and systems — and their paid video and music offerings will be a maze of twisty passages, all different.

Google hasn’t disappointed in that respect with the manner in which word has gotten out about their latest paid content changes. The one thing that seems clear is that the brand “YouTube Red” is apparently going away. But after that, everything is about as easy to understand as hieroglyphics prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. 

YouTube Premium, YouTube Music. YouTube Music Premium. And what of Google Play Music (for free, purchased, and uploaded music) — which Google in their tweets (trying to calm down confused onlookers on Twitter) says is continuing for now?

I tried to figure it all out last night and got a terrible headache that forced me to quit. This morning, it’s all as clear as mud.

There are a couple of things that I’m fairly sure about. At the moment I’m in Google’s “family plan” for $15/month that gives me both YouTube Red and Google Play Music paid services for up to six accounts. I use it mainly for ad-free YouTube viewing and to be able to simultaneously stream different music to different Google Home devices without conflict, from music sources on Play Music and YouTube.

I’ve been led to believe that for existing subscribers of these services under their new names, there are no immediate price changes — though likely that’s coming down the line. It appears that obtaining the same mix of content under Google’s new plans will cost new subscribers more (though they may be able to lock in current prices for a time if they subscribe to the existing plans before the new plans launch reportedly next week).

But how much more will the new services cost going forward? Perhaps the Sphinx could figure it all out. I’ve seen so many different numbers and combinations of services now — not to mention that the future and form of Play Music still seems up in the air — that the only thing seeming certain is uncertainty itself.

I do know that for essentially the same paid mix of video and music content that I receive now from Google, I’d personally probably be willing to pay a wee bit more. But not much more and/or for a more limited set of content. In such latter eventualities, I’d be tempted to drop all of these Google paid content services entirely.

For the moment though, I think that I will sit tight for a bit, and wait for some sort of clarity to hopefully eventually shine its light on this current but predictable Google communications confusion.

Isn’t it nice to have a hobby?

–Lauren–

The Amazing 360 VR “Scoring the Last Jedi” Video


I just watched “Scoring The Last Jedi: a 360 VR Experience” – https://youtu.be/b32Q1nTgHM0 – for the first time, via a Google Daydream VR headset. It’s absolutely stunning, especially if you’re a lifetime fan of film scoring as I am.

Frankly, I was smiling like an idiot through the entire video. Put aside the flight simulators and the games for a moment — if you have the VR hardware to watch this baby (Google Cardboard will work fine too, if your smartphone has a good gyro), it demonstrates — better than anything else I’ve seen so far — what the potential is for VR to transport you almost physically to a different time and place.

Be warned, just watching this on YouTube without a VR headset is like an ant compared with a skyscraper. You really must see it in VR to properly experience this video.

As I’ve said previously, this kind of tech will ultimately either save civilization — or destroy it. It’s really that important.

Trust me on this.

–Lauren–

Warning: Dangerous Fake Emails About Google Privacy Changes


If you use much of anything Google, by now you’ve likely gotten at least one email from Google noting various privacy-related changes. They typically have the Subject:

Improvements to our Privacy Policy and Privacy Controls

and tend to arrive not from the expected simple “google.com” domain, but often from unusual-appearing Google subdomains, for example with addresses like:

privacy-noreply@www3.l.google.com

The notice also includes a bunch of links to various relevant privacy pages and/or systems at Google.

All of this is in advance of the effective date for the European Union’s “GDPR” laws. If you’re not familiar with the GDPR, it’s basically the latest hypocritical move by the EU on their relentless march toward dictating the control of personal data globally and to further their demands to become a global censorship czar — with the ability to demand the deletion of any search engine results around the world that they find inconvenient. Joseph Stalin would heartily approve.

One can assume that Google’s privacy team has been putting in yeoman’s service to meet the EU’s dictatorial demands, and it’s logical that Google decided to make other changes in their privacy ecosystem at the same time, and now is informing users about those changes.

Unfortunately, phishing crooks are apparently already taking advantage of this situation — in particular several aspects of these Google notification emails.

First, the legitimate Google privacy emails going out recently and currently are a veritable flood. It appears that Google is sending these out to virtually every email address ever associated with any Google account since perhaps the dawn of time. I’ve already received approximately 1.3E9 of them. OK, not really that many, but it FEELS like that many.

Some of these are coming in to addresses that I don’t even recognize. This morning one showed up to such a strange address that I had to go digging in my alias databases to figure out what it actually was. It turned out to be so ancient that cobwebs flew out of my screen at me when I accessed its database entry.

Seriously, these are one hell of a lot of emails, and the fact that they may come from somewhat unusual looking google subdomains plus include links has made them fodder for the crooks.

You can guess what’s happening. Phishing and other criminal types are sending out fraudulent emails that superficially appear to be the same as these legit Google privacy policy notification emails. Of course, some or all of the links in the phishing emails lead not to Google but to various evil traps and personal data stealing tricks.

So please, be extraordinarily careful when you receive what appear to be these privacy notices from Google. With so many real ones going out — with multiples often ending up at the same individual via various redirects and forwarding addresses — it’s easy for fake versions to slip in among the real ones, and clicking on the links in the crooked ones or opening attachments that they include can seriously ruin your day, to say the very least.

Take care, all.

–Lauren–