NASA creates an iOS [iPhone, iPad] app that brings some of the agency’s robotic spacecraft to life in 3-D, thanks to Augmented Reality.
Spacecraft 3D uses animation to show how spacecraft can maneuver and manipulate their outside components including the Mars Curiosity Rover that will touched down on Mars on Aug. 5 and the twin GRAIL spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, currently orbiting the moon.
Once downloaded and installed, launch the app; select the spacecraft [e.g. Mars Curiosity] and point your iPhone/ iPad camera to this photo on the left. You will see a 3D spacecraft popping up for you to manipulate. A tap on the screen reveals some commands to move the arm, radar and even move the spacecraft around. It is best to print the photo on a sheet of paper and lay it flat on a table top.
"With Spacecraft 3D and a mobile device, you can put high definition, three-dimensional models literally into the hands of kids of all ages," said Stephen Kulczycki, deputy director for communications and education at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Spacecraft 3D is among the first of what are known as augmented-reality apps for Apple devices. Augmented reality provides users a view of a real-world environment where elements are improved by additional input. Spacecraft 3D uses the iPhone or iPad camera to overlay information on the device’s main screen. The app instructs users to print an augmented-reality target on a standard sheet of paper. When the device’s camera is pointed at the target, the spacecraft chosen by the user materializes on screen.
"Let’s say you want to get an idea what our Curiosity Mars rover is all about," said Kevin Hussey, manager of visualization technology at JPL. "Like Hollywood directors sizing up their next shot, you move your camera-equipped iPad or iPhone in and out, up and down, and the spacecraft perspective moves with you. It is a great way to study the 3-D nature of NASA spacecraft."
Spacecraft 3D currently is available only for iOS, but should be available on other formats in the near future.
The detailed computer models of the spacecraft used in Spacecraft 3D originally were originally generated for NASA’s "Eyes on the Solar System" Web application. “Eyes on the Solar System" is a 3-D environment full of NASA mission data that allows anyone to explore the cosmos from their computer.