A mixed-reality software that allows scientists and engineers to virtually walk on Mars recently received NASA’s 2018 Software of the Year Award.
OnSight uses imagery from NASA’s Curiosity rover to create an immersive 3D terrain model, allowing users to wander the actual dunes and valleys explored by the robot. The goal of the software, a collaboration between Microsoft and JPL’s Ops Lab, is to bring scientists closer to the experience of being in the field. Unlike geologists on Earth, who can get up close and personal with the terrain they study, Martian geologists have a harder time visualizing their environment through 2D imagery from Mars.
“Feeling like you’re standing on Mars really gives you a different sense of Mars than just looking at the pictures,” said Parker Abercrombie, OnSight team lead. “And I think it’s a really powerful way to bring people to these places that they physically can’t visit.”
“Being able to visualize Curiosity’s drives and virtually walk them before we actually do it with the rover is really helpful to give me a sense of how safe or challenging the terrain will be,” said Abigail Fraeman, a member of Curiosity’s science team.
In addition to studying the geology of Mars, the software allows scientists at any location to “meet” on Mars with avatars that can walk, point and interact with one another… [More at link, and earlier posts about OnSight are here, here, and here]