Planetariums are so 2015. Framestore has created the world’s first VR field trip to Mars in a school bus powered by Unreal Engine 4. Ms. Frizzle ain’t got nothing on Framestore.
Gary Marshall, Framestore Senior Developer, remarked, “When I first heard about the project, my reaction was, ‘This is absolutely nuts’. But it was so cool, that I wanted to be on it from the start.”
This invention is essentially the first group VR experience. When students look out the windows, they see the surface of Mars. Unreal Engine 4 was the perfect tool because it is a physically-based renderer that simulates the real world. The team also had to invent transparent windows that could become VR screens. They essentially created a box that incorporates a 4k transparent screen and a layer of switchable film. These screens were hand-built in South Korea and China.
The bus includes speakers as well, which helps students experience sandstorms and other occurrences during the field trip. Alexander Rea, Framestore Head of Creative Technology, noted, “Without hearing that sandstorm surrounding you, feeling it in the subwoofers, feeling it coming from left to right, it would not be a good experience.”
The experience matches the movement of the bus. When the bus moves at 30 mph, students are “moving” at 30 mph on Mars. If the bus turns or runs over a bump, so does the simulation. The screen matches what is occurring in real life. Framestore created 250 square feet of field trip area. The team mapped the every street on Washington D.C. onto the surface of Mars. They used GPS, a three-axis accelerometer, a magnetometer, and a laser surface velocimeter in order to create the map. The laser surface velocimeter informs users about far they have moved forwards or backwards.
Marshall concluded, “I was over the moon- or over Mars-about how it turned out.”