Who isn’t excited about virtual reality these days? Coca-Cola took Santa on a virtual sleigh ride. McDonald’s had its own Happy Meals VR headset. The New York Times has a dedicated VR storytelling team at its T Brand Studio. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, even made her own VR video.
The new vista for VR is looking beyond the headsets of yore to create all-encompassing, immersive virtual experiences. That’s why Lockheed Martin, the global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company, dreamed up a group VR experience that kids could relate to by turning an entire school bus into a VR headset for its “Field Trip to Mars” project.
The Mars Experience bus VR film was created with Academy Award-winning visual effects house Framestore and McCann. Kids got onto the bus to go to the 2016 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. this past spring. They suddenly found that it wasn’t just any other bus ride. (Eat your heart out, Ms. Frizzle!)
“It was probably one of the craziest requests I’d ever received in my career,” Framestore’s Head of Creative Technology, Alexander Rea, wrote in a blog post for Motionographer. “The project itself was full of unknowns: How to create a ‘group’ VR experience? Can VR work without a headset? How can Mars and the streets of Washington D.C. relate to each other?”
Needless to say, Rea and colleagues were successful at creating a virtual reality experience so students who boarded the bus felt as if they were traveling across the face of Mars. The project won 19 Cannes Lions awards last month.
The VR experience marked a coup for Lockheed Martin’s Generation Beyond corporate citizenship platform, which aims to help get more kids into pursuing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers, whether at Lockheed Martin or beyond, with augmented reality and virtual reality an exciting and growing field for them to explore.
It’s also getting kids age 9-12 thinking about the possibility of space travel, as the first generation that may very well travel to Mars someday—and not on a bus. The community outreach program offers a variety of interactive tools to engage and inspire students and educators:
- Online Curriculum: Designed for middle school teachers and students, it includes lesson plans for teachers, field trip ideas and activities students can bring home to share with their families. The deep space curriculum will be shared freely with thousands of middle schools across the country, reaching hundreds of thousands of American students.
- Lockheed Martin Mars Experience Bus: In addition to the curriculum, Generation Beyond includes a real-life Mars Experience Bus that will travel the country providing student riders with an interactive experience simulating a drive along the red planet’s surface. The Lockheed Martin Mars Experience Bus is the first immersive virtual reality vehicle ever built and replicates 200 square miles of the Martian surface. The Mars Experience was built with the same software used in today’s most advanced video games.
- Hello Mars App: Lockheed Martin’s Hello Mars app for iOS or Android devices allows students to find Mars in the sky, travel there virtually and receive real-time Mars weather reports. It’s described as “a beautiful experience as you search the stars, travel to distant orbits and reach Mars with real-time weather data.”
The hope is more than just an out-of-this-world field trip, but to inspire kids to think about scientific and technical career opportunities. “Through providing a dazzling experience within the comfort of a school bus, the young scientists and technologists of tomorrow couldn’t help but look to the future as they commuted to the festival,” Rea wrote.
“Educational institutions producing multi-disciplinary talent will play a major role in developing talent that will mature the technology and push it to greater heights,” Wayne Civinskas, senior program manager for advanced technologies in the company’s training and logistics solutions division, told The Republican American. “Lockheed Martin continues to partner with science, technology, engineering and math programs to help inspire future talent to address the next generation of challenges.”
It all leads back to Lockheed Martin’s core mission: “Helping the future arrive is what we do. We solve the great problems of our times. We create the innovative technologies that define eras. While no one knows what’s going to change the world next, we’re probably already working on it.”