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A Google Glass prototype
A Google Glass prototype

Google jumps big time into virtual reality race?

A team of engineers at Google is reportedly working to build a version of the Android operating system to power virtual-reality applications.

The move comes on the heels of Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus VR. Wall Street Journal quoted “two people familiar with the project” as saying that Google has “tens of engineers” and other staff working on the project.

Google plans to freely distribute the new operating system, they said, mimicking a strategy that has made Android by far the most popular operating system for smartphones.

googlecarThe project is speculative, because no virtual-reality devices are yet shipping in large numbers. But game companies, filmmakers and others see huge promise in the field.

Virtual reality was the highlight of the recently held Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Attendees waited for two hours for a demonstration of the Oculus product.

Facebook jumped ahead of rivals by buying Oculus, which makes a headset that wearers strap over their eyes to project virtual-reality images.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that virtual reality will be the next “computing platform” after mobile devices, and he hopes Oculus will power a new generation of “immersive” experiences, from games to remote learning to virtual doctor appointments.

The Oculus deal helped spark a race to develop virtual-reality systems. Oculus uses its own hardware and software for its headset, just as Apple Inc. uses its own hardware and software for the iPhone. Software developers build their applications on top of these systems.

Separately, Google has another team testing a special tablet that uses multiple cameras to “augment reality” by projecting images onto real world objects.

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