Virtual Ride to Space using the Oculus Rift
A weather balloon will carry 24 HD video cameras up to a 20km altitude in order to reconstruct an immersive ride to space.
If you missed our Kickstarter campaign, but still want to participate in this project you're in luck! We're planning to re-launch the KickStarter campaign incorporating all of the feedback we've received. Importantly: we'll be offering the rewards at a greatly reduced price.
For updates, and to participate in the new and improved campaign, please check our project website for details.
Also, a big thank you to all of our supporters who pledged toward this project!
In the media:
If you're anything like me, then you've been dreaming about traveling to space since you can remember. But if you're not an astronaut, and you don't happen to be sitting on a mountain made of money, then this simply won't happen by sitting around and waiting.
As of January 3rd, 2013, only 530 people have ever traveled to space. Well, lucky them... but what about the rest of us? This project is about enabling us, the remaining 99.999992%, to get that experience. Well, at least as close as we can offer for £40.
This project will use video footage collected by 24 GoPro cameras that are carried to the edge of space (20km) by a high altitude balloon to reconstruct a virtual immersive recreation of the journey. While we think this could be pretty cool, let’s be honest… the agreed upon ‘boundary to space’ is 100km, so this isn’t quite the whole way. What would be WAY cooler is a virtual experience of a complete orbit around the earth on a proper satellite! For instance, by equipping one of our future Surrey Space Centre satellite platforms with panoramic high definition cameras. As you can imagine, this would require much more of an investment than the balloon project. We are using this balloon project to get a feel for how the general public would support (or not) the idea of a virtual orbit around the earth. Also, the lessons learned on the software and hardware developments will be essential building blocks on the way.
For this project the experience is everything, so we're going with the cutting edge of available technology. The Oculus Rift, developed by Oculus VR, is an unparallelled virtual reality headset, which delivers a high definition wide field of view 3-dimensional virtual environment for the user. But it's not just about great visuals, we want to create a whole experience. A soundtrack feature will overlay music on top of actual audio recorded by the cameras. Plus, you can incorporate your own MP3 playlist instead of the default audio tracks. The software will allow you to slow down, speed up, or even reverse time. All with an immersive panoramic view of the earth as you ascend slowly to space.
What if I don't have an Oculus Rift? Don't worry, you won't be left out. We want everyone to be able to enjoy this experience, so we're creating two additional versions of the software to work with your smartphone and personal computer. For the smartphone package, the camera view will be controlled by the 3D orientation of the phone itself using built-in gyroscope and accelerometer data. For the PC version, the camera view will be controlled using the mouse (similar to a FPS game). Either way, you'll be able to look around freely in real-time as if you were a virtual passenger riding the balloon to space.
In order to create this virtual experience, we need to first gather raw video data from the real world. This is where the balloon and payload come into play. There are three essential elements to this device: a weather balloon, a recovery parachute, and payload electronics. The weather balloon is designed to carry the payload and parachute to an altitude of 20km (twice the height of a commercial airplane) and then burst. The device then descends to the ground using the recovery parachute where it can be collected. All this time, the payload electronics are recording video footage that will be stitched together afterward in order to recreate the ascent as an immersive panoramic environment.
The primary purpose of the payload is to gather the raw video footage during the ascent into space. There are also several other essential tasks the payload needs to perform. First, it needs to keep track of the position and orientation of the balloon so that the raw video data can be correctly mapped onto the virtual environment. It is likely that the balloon will spin and swing during the trip, so this motion needs to be captured and corrected during the data post-processing. Second, the payload needs to transmit its location at the end of the trip so that we can find it once it lands. This will be accomplished using a SPOT Satellite Messenger. Finally, the payload needs to keep everything warm inside the enclosure so the the electronics keep on ticking. It can be really cold in the upper atmosphere (an average of -55C), so a hand warmer is used to keep everything cozy.
The wide angle lens of the GoPro Hero 3 cameras allows highly redundant capture of the full 4π steradian field of view (complete spherical field of view).
April 2014: Money arrives for the KickStarter project and work kicks-off.
May 2014: Parts and materials are sources and procured.
June 2014: Dry run launch attempt(s). Dummy payload is launched and recovery is attempted. Process iterates until we are confident in our ability to successfully launch and recover our system.
July 2014: Grand launch attempt. Complete payload including all 24 GoPro Hero 3 cameras are launched and recovered.
August 2014: Redundant launch attempt (if needed).
September 2014 onward: Development of Oculus VR, smartphone, and PC software.
April 2015: Project completion.
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Risks and challenges
We're trying to send something into space, so you'd better believe that things could go wrong! Have you ever heard the phrase "Hope for the best, but plan for the worst"? Well, that's our chosen design philosophy for this project. We've got a series of trial runs and practice launches leading to our grand attempt. Then, if something does go wrong, we've got room in our schedule (and budget) to try the whole thing again.
What we're aiming to do is ambitious, yes, but we're meeting this challenge head-on with brute force engineering.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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