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Google wants you to 'tour' Street View images in VR.
Google wants you to ‘tour’ Street View images in VR.

Image: Getty Images/spencer platt

No matter how hard tech companies try, it’s difficult to escape the fact that virtual reality just isn’t that accessible. Most VR headsets are expensive and clunky, and even if you do have one, there are few ways to share your experiences with people who don’t have one of their own.

But Google is trying to find some new middle ground. Today, the company’s launching a new tool for VR creation called Tour Creator, which lets anyone create immersive VR “tours” with a set of simple web-based tools.

To start, all you need is a few 360-degree photos, which you can upload from an existing camera or pull directly from Google’s Street View catalog. From there, you can compose your “tour,” while overlaying still images and text descriptions identifying specific points of interest.

The finished product can be viewed via a VR viewer like Cardboard, but it can also be viewed on the web in a normal web browser. (Tour Creator is built into Google’s Poly platform.)

In some ways, Tour Creator is the next logical step from Google’s Expeditions program, which aimed to get students and teachers to participate in VR “field trips.” Now, though, instead of passively watching 360-degree videos, teachers and students can actually make their own VR-ready content.

But, unlike Expeditions, Tour Creator has many potential applications outside of educational settings, according to Google. One of the company’s early partners on the feature is Time Out New York, which created a series of tours centered around popular tourist attractions, like Central Park. Meanwhile, the airline KLM created a tour to train flight attendants to work on specific types of aircraft.

Google says they’ve also seen a lot of interest from the real estate industry, which, not surprisingly, likes the idea of adding easily embeddable 360-degree photos to listings.

Speaking of embeddable, the fact that everything built with Tour Creator is embeddable and shareable across the web is significant. Allowing the tours to be accessed and viewed outside the confines of a headset or Cardboard viewer, creates much more incentive for people to create the content in the first place.

And that, of course, is the point: to remove as many barriers as possible while still enabling some of the immersiveness afforded by VR.

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