Elon Musk wants to live on Mars, but he probably won't have the pleasure. And you aren't likely to either. But here's the next best thing, thanks to the help of the Oculus Rift and Virtuix Omni. Walk the red planet, without giving up the rest of your life to do it.
In a clever bit of hacking, the folks at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have taken today's best consumer VR tech and mashed it up with a real stereoscopic 360-degree panorama of Mars taken by Curiosity, and satellite images to help map the surface's rocky terrain. Put it all together and you get the best Martian vacation you're likely to get without leaving the planet forever. And if that's not enough, they've got a model of the ISS too. Think of it as an interactive, immersive version of clicking through Google's Street view.
The project started simply, with just an Oculus Rift and an Xbox 360 controller. But it just wasn't quite right without walking, so the JPL tinkerers decided to add a virtual reality treadmill (the Virtuix Omni). Ideally, NASA wants its rig to have a few more sensors to try and make things even more immersive. Though the presence of gravity is likely to be a pretty persistent issue, one that's especially problematic for an ISS simulation.
The coolest thing about this is that it's put together using nothing but products you can go out and buy yourself. It's not some massively expensive unicorn you'll read about online or in a magazine, but either never see in person or wait in a 7,000-person line to see at the Air and Space Museum.
The full simulation experience is undoubtedly a blast, but even putting in some time with the Rift and controller version seems terrific in its own right, and a lot more practical. Hopefully it makes it's way out to the us everyday Mars fans. And if NASA put out some kind of anti-gravity tank too, we sure wouldn't complain. [Engadget via Slashgear]