Children take virtual bus trip to Mars
Getting children interested in space is probably not too difficult but driving them in a bus on an inaugural trip to Mars is guaranteed to create the kind of experience they will remember forever.
Field Trip to Mars is the first group virtual reality experience, which has been provided by London-based Framestore’s use of Unreal Engine (which has a base in Guildford), to create the realisation of a fantastical idea.
Above: Framestore used Unreal Engine to convert a regular US school bus for its trip to Mars.
The Framestore team certainly delivered something amazing. The idea? To take schoolchildren on a virtual reality trip to Mars, but with a difference: The VR experience would be shared and take place within a regular school bus that would drive around Washington DC. By replacing the bus windows with computer screens, students travelling on board could look out and see the Marsian landcape around them. Every move the bus made, no matter how small, would result in the virtual world outside being updated, coordinating motion and images so the children believed they were driving on a different planet.
Above: Special transparent screens replace windows on the bus, allowing views through the window to switch to views of Mars.
Unreal Engine is a physics-based rendering engine that simulates the real world. The team also had to invent transparent windows that could become VR screens as the bus arrived on Mars. 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 Unreal Engine simulation, ensuring the screens always match what is happening in real life.
Ben Fox, the project's technical artist, said, “The cool thing is that it [Unreal Engine] works with real world stuff really well. You just put stuff in there and say, 'I want a sun here, a sky here…' and it just deals with those concepts very well. I didn’t have to create those natural phenomena as the engine does such an excellent job of doing it. It was the natural choice for the aesthetic we wanted. I don’t really think that there was ever any other option for this application.”
Already recognised as being one of the best-in-class 3D computer game engines, one that has driven many of the top PC, PlayStation and Xbox titles over the past 20 years, Unreal Engine is being used by those working in aeronautics, automotive and architecture, as well as many other areas where real-time, immersive visualisation and ultra-high fidelity graphical representations are important.
Virtual reality and real-time is fast becoming a commercially important part of many creative, technical and engineering developments, and is helping designers and engineers to do things you simply couldn’t do in the real world. It’s also beginning to change the way that many people work and the things they can achieve.
For Claude Dareau, senior developer of Field Trip to Mars, the single best moment was during the first run with the children. He said: “We get the kids on the bus, the screens go dark, Mars pops up and they go crazy. Just seeing their reaction was incredible. I’d only had a few hours' sleep and was shattered. I definitely felt emotional when I saw that.”
Simon Jones, Director of Unreal Engine Enterprise, said this is because immersive visualisation technology is becoming much more accessible: “All of this means that organisations across a range of sectors are increasingly understanding how they can embed VR within their design, development and technical strategies to help them do things faster and more efficiently. So what started life as a high-end computer gaming technology has developed to become an application that accelerates innovation, drives new technology and creates limitless opportunities. Like taking children on an astonishing field trip to Mars.”
Using technology proven by parent organisation, computer games specialists Epic Games, Unreal Engine Enterprise works with application developers and users to help create astonishing 2D and VR immersive visualisation tools that change the way businesses work.
From new ways to engage with customers to methods to simplify the engineering of complex products to techniques for global collaboration in new product development, immersive visualisation is driving process improvement, saving time, adding competitive advantage and increasing sales.
Applications already include visualisation tools for architects, a new generation of car configurators that have been shown to increase average sale values, design support for engineers and stylists, inspiring and educating children, and even training astronauts for their journey to Mars.