Google’s Virtual Reality Camera Plans Go Far Beyond GoPro Partnership (Exclusive)

Google Is Building Its Own VR Camera
Image: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Google is looking to build its own camera systems to capture media for its Cardboard virtual reality (VR) platform, according to recent job listings. These efforts seem to go far beyond a partnership with GoPro that the company announced at its Google I/O developer conference last week.

On Monday, Google published a handful of job listings related to hardware and software capable of capturing and processing VR content, including one for the position of a hardware engineer, VR camera systems. Here’s how the listing describes the job:

“As a Hardware Engineer for VR Camera Systems, you develop camera systems that capture experiences for our virtual reality platforms. Specifically, you develop opto-electro-mechanical system concepts in conjunction with various Architecture leads before reducing them to schematics. Then, you see those schematics turned into finished boards and are responsible for the initial bring up of the hardware with the help of embedded Software Engineers.”

Google announced a first VR camera rig at I/O last week — but that rig, which is part of a VR production effort the company has called Jump, is completely mechanical, and relies on 16 GoPro cameras to shoot spherical video. Google is going to make the schematics for the Jump rig freely available online, but has also partnered with GoPro to sell a set including the necessary cameras in the coming months.

The explicit mention of opto-electro-mechanical systems, circuit boards and embedded systems in the job offer suggests that Google doesn’t want to just rely on GoPro’s cameras, but actually build its own capturing hardware.

Other position Google is looking to fill include a “Virtual Reality Software Engineer, Networking,” an “Image Tuning and Quality Evaluation Engineer, (Cardboard and Virtual Reality)” and a “Software Engineer, Virtual Reality Media.” These other job offers include tidbits about “a Linux-based media and audio architecture,” “spatialized audio system development for VR” and DRM standards — all of which suggest that Google may be building complete capturing systems that could be used for professional or semi-professional production of virtual reality content.

Google wouldn’t be alone in trying to kickstart VR with new camera systems: Samsung announced its own 360-degree VR camera dubbed Project Beyond at its Developer Conference last fall. Project Beyond hasn’t materialized as a commercial product yet, but Samsung said at the time that it will start to use the camera to produce content for its own Gear VR platform.

Similarly, Google may initially not be looking to build a commercial VR camera, but instead just build capturing equipment for its own production needs. Google recently released a slightly improved cardboard VR viewer, and has begun to showcase spherical content on YouTube as well.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the job offers, but said that “with Jump, it’s clear we’re interested in VR video.”