Between Facebook’s investment in Oculus, Google’s (Alphabet) stepping up of VR content on YouTube and a number of other efforts including by Pornhub to provide fresh virtual reality content, it’s pretty clear that the technology is moving forward rapidly and not going anywhere. You, however, can go to Mars with with a new VR offering by Fusion and Nvidia this fall.
Walk around Mars or drive the Rover
Fusion and Nvidia will offer the chance to explore an eight kilometers by eight kilometer patch of martian soil for free sometime this autumn. While not released yet, a number of journalists have been given a sneak peak of Mars 2030 and the consensus is that’s it’s nothing short of all sorts of impressive.
Not surprisingly based on photos from land and space based telescopes, or even Matt Damon as “The Martian” the surface of the Red Planet is quite rocky and desolate.
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Mars 2030 was debuted at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in San Jose in April with Stephen Gary “Steve” Wozniak, known as “Woz” putting on a headset (not on premises) while those in attendance watched him explore Mars on a large screen.
Nvidia’s GeForce 980Ti and the HTC Vivre headset powered Mars 2030 but that wouldn’t have happened without the work of Florida-based game company Fusion though Mars 2030 doesn’t really qualify as a game but “It has the latest in scientific research, the latest in visuals and real-time rendering, and the latest in sound, all coming together.” according to Nvidia’s head of VR development, Zvi Greenstein.
“The idea is not to build a game, but real-life experiences, pushing performance with the highest regard to scientific accuracy,” he continued.
“You’re putting someone into a 3-dimensional time machine. There’s something very special about that,” said driving force behind the idea, Julian Reyes of Fusion.
“It is also getting to be a kind of steppingstone into artificial intelligence,” Reyes said. “VR and AI running in parallel with each other are really going to change the way we digest information and produce these different types of experiences that don’t confine information to a 2-D monitor. You’re seeing information while you’re inside a three-dimensional space. The Mars project is a vision of that future,” he continued.
You’re going to need a headset
When the game is released online for free later this year, you will certainly be able to explore Mars with a cheap Google Cardboard viewer working in conjunction with a smartphone, those that own the HTC Vivre headset or another dedicated VR viewer will truly get the full audio and visual experience.
While they remain expensive the present rise in content will surely see the prices come down by Christmas and will continue to decline going forward in the coming years.
While a tour of Nvidia’s lobby and a trek up Everest were also shown at last month’s conference, Mars 2030 was the true standout of the offerings.
Reyes went to work on the project by first contacting Sydney Do of MIT who has explored the possibilities of a Mars mission and Do gave him a number of NASA reports to begin studying the Martian environment.
NASA also helped with the project by showing Reyes the tech it’s working on for a planned manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Fusion employees were even given the opportunity to tool around the parking lot of the Johnson Space Center in a six-wheeled Mars rover under development. In order to create the shockingly realistic Mars landscape, Fusion called on David Flamburis and the use of the “Unreal Engine 4” to design the explorable Martian surface.
“I decided to create five different classes of rocks,” said Flamburis. “One was kind of like magma and basalt combined, which was ejecta from eruptions. There were a lot of broken pieces of basalt, and a lot of pure black lava stone, and smooth natural-occurring stone that might have been worn down over a billion years ago. You’ll see rocks have different texture, feel to them as you wander through.”
While it was an impressive showing last month, the reason for the fall release is simple, Fusion wants to make it better and is continuing to improve Mars 2030.
Speaking to one of the missions that the team continues to work on Flamburis spoke of one that would allow those with a headset to select a mission that “will lead you down into a collapse, and reveal the lava tube itself.” “It’s almost like sticking your head out of the window on top of two Empire State Buildings and looking down. We’re trying to get that feel,” he quipped.