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McDonald's enters virtual-reality race with a Happy Meal box

McDonald's newest iteration of the Happy Meal box folds into a VR headset. Could this be a competitor to Google Cardboard?

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    McDonald's new happy meal box can fold in a VR headset. It is only available for now in select locations in Sweden.
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For those that wanted more out of their fast food box, McDonald’s is finally delivering.

The fast-food giant has unveiled the newest iteration of the iconic Happy Meal box and this one doubles as a virtual-reality headset. The box looks regular, but with a few quick pulls, folds, and a smartphone, the french-fry carrier turns into a pair of low-cost VR goggles, similar in style to Google Cardboard.

The set of goggles also comes with another untraditional Happy Meal toy: a new VR game to download. The game is designed to educate children about ski safety in an immersive, VR experience, which is fitting as the boxes make their debut in Sweden.

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“Right now this initiative is being tested in Sweden – yes Sweden,” the company states on the Happy Goggles website. “We hope to be able to roll it out in your country soon.”

The Happy Goggles experiment puts the restaurant in the middle of a growing tech race for the most accessible VR headset.

“In the last year, [VR] technology has really gotten to a place that is making it consistently enjoyable and commercially viable,” Katrina Craigwell, Head of Programming & Content at GE Corporate, told Forbes in an interview. “We’ve seen VR content capture the imagination of every audience we’ve presented it to: B2B, B2C, tech enthusiast, and more.”

The VR race has exploded at tech conferences in the new year. CES 2016 exposed many of the larger commercial projects, like the Oculus Rift, which is now available for preorder, and Project Morpheus – PlayStation’s entry in the VR race. CES also offered brief looks at many newer, smaller teams and systems from Zeiss VR One to Trinus VR. The TED 2016 Conference expanded the showing with displays from Microsoft’s augmented reality platform Hololens and The Void, a new VR firm attempting to launch virtual-reality parks.

Despite the diversity in technologies, team sizes, and resources, most of the projects are focused on developing portable, virtual-reality headsets that could run at home. The majority of platforms were also targeted toward video gamers. McDonald's is targeting a different demographic.

When it comes to hardware, McDonald’s cardboard exterior and interior is lacking. But it’s method of creating a holder and relying on the user having a smartphone, doesn’t knock it out of the race automatically. In fact, the strategy is far from doomed and far from original.

Google unveiled its own low tech entry to the VR competition with Google Cardboard – a cardboard pair of goggles that can hold a smartphone. McDonald’s Happy Goggles look similar to the Google Cardboard goggles, if a little less robust. But where the cheapest Google Cardboard model retails at around $15, the Happy Goggles go for the price of a Happy Meal, or $4.10, according to Fortune, a price that includes the Happy Meal itself, as well as the lingering french fry aroma when you wear the headset.

The Happy Goggles will be available at select McDonald’s locations in Sweden for the promotional event starting March 5.

The game is also designed to be a “good, joint activity” to introduced both kids and their parents to virtual-reality and help them bond.

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