It will be years before a manned Mars mission gets to happen, and all bets are off about which country might get there first. But starting this past Monday they cut the ribbon for the opening of new Destination: Mars exhibition at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It uses a mixed-reality presentation created by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to give you a fully immersive idea of what being on Mars would be like. They used all the images they received from the Curiosity rover to build the virtual environment, so you can’t get much closer to an authentic experience than that. They are using the Microsoft HoloLens™ mixed reality headset to deliver the experience, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin will be your holographic guide. For those who missed it, I posted about this last June, complete with a couple of videos demonstrating the process; nice to know it is finally available. I am adding this to the list of fun exhibitions I want to visit, and am thinking some time next year I should be able to make it. Perhaps I will see you there.

This sounds a lot more like a commercial than I would normally share here, but the concept is unique; using a small spherical robot as a real time marker for your 3D Augmented Reality character to manifest on. This gives you flexibility and mobility not previously available to interact with your environment. While the usage they are targeting is within a game, the potential applications range far beyond that.

For instance, this could be used as a personal tour guide in a museum, slaved to a GPS, a museum map, and an extensive database of facts on each exhibit, along with speech recognition processing. It would be able to answer your every question about any exhibit in great detail. Or linked to the camera and a library of geometry and trigonometry functions, you could use nearby buildings and moving vehicles to learn various math functions with literally real world examples, and again query the system to get a full understanding of what you were learning, with your virtual tutor traveling your city or town with you.

OK, for the outdoor applications you might want to carry a pocketful of the round robots with you, to replace the ones crushed under city bus tires or swept into storm drains by sudden showers as you go along. But those bots are extremely simple, and after another 6 months of producing them ought to become quite cheep as well, making their use in such environments quite cost effective. Thanks to Tech Crunch for the heads up on this one.

I am still trying to decide if this is a major tech advance or just creepy. Using some Augmented Reality goggles and software, a Japanese engineer has come up with a way to date his favorite virtual idol, Hatsune Miku. A bit creepy, was my first reaction. But what if you then used a Kinect or other low cost motion capture solution to drive your anime character of choice in real time with an actual person wearing the avatar? That could end up being a new level of RPG and Cosplay interaction amongst consenting adult geeks. Perhaps it is time to break out your own copy of the ARToolKit and start programming your glasses.

This should be fun; the folks at Bandai Namco Games have released a Gundam augmented reality game for the iPhone/iPad called Gundam Area Wars. As in most games, the goal is to take over the enemy bases by defeating them, thus growing your own forces for the next battle. The fun part is it uses the camera and GPS functions of the iDevices to show that enemy on your screen against your real world background. A word of caution; while the game itself is free, some mission orders and add-ons are purchased from inside the game. Depending on how that is set up, it could get pricey pretty fast. Thanks to Anime News Network for the heads up on this one.