NASA explores augmented reality with Spacecraft 3D app

NASA is exploring new frontiers in the app universe, with the release of an augmented reality app for Apple iPhone and iPads.

Spacecraft 3D created a high-definition, three-dimensional model and uses animation to let users see how some of the agency’s robotic spacecraft work, NASA said.

Augmented reality apps, a fairly new breed of applications, combine real-world images with additional digital effects. A range of commercial apps exist for Apple and Android products, and do everything from finding restaurants, to telling you how far away the bunker is on a golf course, to showing you the constellations in the sky.

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NASA’s Spacecraft 3D, currently available from iTunes, features two current missions, the Curiosity rover expected to reach Mars in August and the two GRAIL spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, orbiting the moon, NASA said.

Users first print out their “augmented reality target” — say, a map of the Martian landscape — then point the device’s camera at the picture, and a 3-D image of the robotic craft (in this case Curiosty) appears on the screen. You can even put yourself into the picture.

When manipulating the phone or tablet across the picture, up or down or zooming in or out, the craft moves with you.

“It is a great way to study the 3-D nature of NASA spacecraft,” said Kevin Hussey, manager of visualization technology at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA developed the app by drawing on 3-D models it had already made for its "Eyes on the Solar System" Web application, which lets visitors explore the solar system with the help of a 3-D plug-in.

NASA plans to add Cassini (orbiting Saturn), Dawn (in the asteroid belt) and the Voyager spacecraft (on the outer reaches of the solar system) to the app, and says it will add platforms other that iOS in the near future.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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