The first people who will visit Mars are sitting in a school today. In fact, the first astronauts will arrive before today’s kindergarteners graduate college.
To help inspire these students, Lockheed Martin created a one-of-a-kind bus fitted with a lot of high-tech that enables them to explore the surface of Mars to see what it looks like and learn about its weather patterns. This bus was turned into reality by McCann New York and Framestore, who handled most of the technical realization. It enables students to be part of a group VR experience and, in order to do that, relies heavily on state-of-the-art technologies such as see-through HD displays, a laser surface velocimeter, and a 360 degree soundscape. The Marsian surface was built by the team in the Unreal game engine, which is an engine based on real physics. With the help of this, the actual movements of the (actually driving) bus could be translated into the simulated Marsian surface in real-time (a turn on earth equals a turn on Mars).
To be prepared for any possible route deviation of the bus, they mapped every street in Washington DC and covered 250 square miles in total. Therefore, it is not a film that is shown on the displays, but a real-time render of Mars. The bus is part of Lockheed Martin’s ‘Generation Beyond’ campaign and aims to interest thousands of children into aspects that are beyond the things we see. It was also entered at the Cannes Lions Film Festival, where it won a total of 19 lions across multiple and diverse categories.
While this can certainly be regarded as a special type of VR space travel, the technologies applied and combined in the bus for the group VR experience enable many different uses, not only the exploration of the surface of Mars. We can, for example, also imagine the use of the bus to simulate driving in different eras, be it past (such as the ancient Rome), present, or future. A use for present time scenarios could be heritage sites that become mobile, enabling marketers to take potential visitors on a sampling trip through the area, thousands of kilometers away from the actual destination. The only thing to keep in mind is that for this type of presentation the desired contents have to be modeled and entered into the graphics engine – conventional video cannot be applied, and the use of 360 degree video material is also doubtful.
To sum up, we think this innovative approach from Lockheed Martin gives a great insight that shows how far VR related technology has developed and into the many possibilities that VR offers. We are excited about other projects that may come to life modeled after the example of this bus.