About this project
- Update -
For those that supported us on our first Kickstarter campaign, here are a few quick words about the changes/improvements we've made for our second attempt:
- Everything is now cheaper! For instance, we're now offering the Oculus Rift software for £6 compared to £50 in the previous campaign.
- Our target funding goal is easier to achieve: £5000 compared to £30,000 for the original campaign.
- We've reduced the number of GoPro cameras on the payload platform from 24 to 12. This will still give us complete spherical coverage and sufficient overlap, but reduce the cost and weight of the setup.
- We're increase our target altitude to 30km (we've already been able to send test hardware to 28km, so it should be achievable).
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 November 6, 2013, only 536 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 £5.
This project will use video footage collected by 12 GoPro cameras that are carried to the edge of space (30km) by a high altitude balloon to reconstruct a virtual immersive recreation of the journey.
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 30km (three times 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 GPS receiver and radio transmitter, and a backup 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). There are 12 cameras in total: six cameras are located around the equator, three are on the top facing upward, and three more are on the bottom facing downward.
The project is already underway. We've completed a preliminary hardware test flight and recovery in early May, and finalized our payload design in early June. We're currently in the process of building the final payload module assembly, and should have the device ready for camera calibration by the end of June.
July 2014: Grand launch attempt. Complete payload including all 12 GoPro Hero 3 cameras are launched and recovered.
September 2014: Redundant launch attempt (if needed).
October 2014 onward: Development of Oculus VR, smartphone, and PC software.
May 2015: Project completion.
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Risks and challenges
Our biggest concern is the successful recovery of our payload following the launch. We've mitigated this risk by using two redundant GPS location systems: the first uses a GPS receiver and radio transmitter to actively transmit location telemetry to the ground during the flight, the second is a commercial GPS locator (Spot Satellite Messenger) that transmits its location to a satellite network at 10 minute intervals. Both of these systems worked perfectly for the first test flight, and we were able to recover our hardware without any trouble.
If the worst happens, and we do lose our payload following the flight or the cameras are damaged/fail, we have enough budget left for a redundant launch in September.
The software development is going to be challenging, but we've left ourselves a lot of time to work on it following the flight (at least 7 months, even if we need to use the redundant flight opportunity).Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Yes, all £15 pledge supporters will receive all three versions of the software: Oculus Rift + smartphone + PC.
The video footage won't have stereoscopic information needed to reconcile depth. The depth information would have been quite minimal anyway once the balloon is far above the ground. However, we're going to be "cheating" slightly with the Oculus Rift. We'll be projecting the balloon footage onto a virtual spherical dome that you stand within (imagine being in an dome screen theater). The left and right eye view will be slightly different to accommodate the effect. So there will definitely be a technology benefit to using the Oculus Rift over a 2-dimensional screen. Hopefully the end effect will make it feel like you're immersed/surrounded by the experience.
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