Epic Games and NASA have joined forces to launch a contest for digital artists who wish to contribute their stone to the conquest of Mars.
Virtual reality is one of those technologies that are on the rise. And it’s even more true since Mark Zuckerberg started dangling his new fad, the metaverse. But this technology is not just for VRChat enthusiasts. In many industries, VR has established itself as a tremendously useful technology. It is already used as a tool for training, design, and even basic scientific research. And it is precisely for these three reasons that NASA intends to put it to good use.
The American space agency has teamed up with Epic Games to offer a great challenge to video game developers. Both professionals and amateurs are invited to produce a whole catalog virtual reality elements and experiences that will allow future astronauts to prepare for the trip in the best conditions.
“We are looking for developers to create a new research, development and test environment to prepare astronauts for the experiences and situations they will encounter on Mars”, explains the summary available on the HeroX platform. The objective is toprevent future settlers from having to improvise on siteknowing that each maneuver will be critical to the survival of the crew.
5 categories of scenarios to prepare for any eventuality
Creators will have considerable leeway, but will still have to juggle some constraints. In particular, they will have to rely on the MarsXR platform, a realistic Martian simulation that runs on Unreal Engine 5. It is already a good starting point. There are 400 km² of almost photorealistic scenery, the management of the solar cycle, or the consideration of gravity and weather conditions. For the curious, it is already available on the Epic Games Store at this address.
But this sample is only a blank canvas that the participating artists will be responsible for filling out. They will have to imagine different scenarios. These will be relatively free, but they will have to fit into one of the five categories defined by NASA. For each of them, the agency also gives some guidelines to define the type of scenario it expects.
For example, the first category is called “Set up camp”. This scenario includes all the logistics related to the installation of a Martian colony. Developers tackling this category will be tasked with coming up with scenarios like “locate a rover’s point of impact, inspect it, and drive it to verify its functionality.”
The other categories, all pretty self-explanatory, will include “Scientific Research“, of “Maintenance,” or of”Exploration”. Finally, a fifth category called “Blow our minds”, which could be translated as “bluff us”, gives carte blanche to the creators to propose exotic scenarios or reinforce the bases of the MarsXR platform.
The complete list of conditions, constraints, suggestions and explanations is available directly on the program’s HeroX page.
Great prizes at stake
251 participants are registered at the time of writing. They have 80 days to submit their proposals, and there are rewards up for grabs. A total of $70,000 (around €66,000) will be awarded to the four best proposals in each category; least of all, knowing that these contributions could have a very concrete interest for the future of the Martian exploration.
We therefore give you an appointment in about 2 and a half months to discover the nuggets that will emerge from this program. Those of you with VR hardware can then try out these scenarios for yourself. A good opportunity to share, for a moment, an experience otherwise reserved for the brave few who will set out to conquer Mars.