Speaking of Hubble...

Curiosity: An Augmented Reality Experience

July 26, 2012 by Alberto Conti
NASA's Spacecraft 3D is an augmented reality (AR) application that lets you learn about and interact with a variety of spacecraft that are used to explore our solar system, study Earth, and observe the universe.

NASA's Spacecraft 3D is an augmented reality application that lets you learn about and interact with a variety of spacecraft.

Over the past 30 years, many of us have enjoyed entertaining and challenging video games. Do you remember the classic Pong? Space Invaders? Playing games is an important part of life, after all.

The number of transistors in modern computers has increased over 2 billion times since the late 70s. As a result, computing power has increased by more than six orders of magnitude (2 million times) and has made possible the technological revolution we are living in today.

Today, we can play even very complex video games on our smart phones. However, to me the most remarkable development is how much more photo-realistic computer graphics have become. It will not be long before it will be hard to tell the difference between artificial and real landscapes.

As the barriers of photo-realism rapidly drop, our expectations of possible interactions with machines rise. Old preconceptions about where our reality ends and where a virtual reality starts are rapidly changing. Commercially available 3D televisions are quickly adding a third dimension to our viewing experience, but lately a new trend has emerged: augmented reality. This new technology seems to finally successfully blur the line between what’s real and what’s computer-generated by enhancing what we see, hear, and perhaps soon feel and smell. Augmented reality is basically starting to integrate all available pixels on all your devices into real-world environments.

Augmented reality isn’t the fully immersive, completely computer-generated environment produced by virtual reality; instead it’s an at-times-subtle augmentation of your real world. Augmented reality adds graphics, sounds, and visual feedback to the natural world as seen from your own device’s camera. Google’s Project Glass is an example of what we can expect to see in just a few years.

It comes as no surprise that this augmented reality movement is strongly driven by the game and smart phone markets, which after all control most of the pixels we have access to on a daily basis. The end game is to fundamentally change the way we perceive our world by giving our own senses access to information available only to machines.

On July 11, NASA entered the augmented reality arena for smart phones by releasing an augmented application that brings some of the agency’s robotic spacecraft to life in 3-D on iPhone and iPads. Spacecraft 3D is a simple application that allows anyone with an iPhone or iPad (Android version coming soon) to experience a three-dimensional model of NASA’s spacecrafts in high definition.

In this first iteration, Spacecraft 3D showcases the Mars Science Laboratory rover (also known as Curiosity) which is scheduled to make it’s incredible landing on the surface of Mars on August 5. So, grab the app and get familiar with the rover on a virtual desktop near you.