In addition to their applications in gaming, virtual reality platforms have gained a lot of interest from the educational community in recent years. Imagine teaching engineering students how to work on complex equipment in a virtual laboratory, for example. Or teaching history students about the Civil Rights Movement by allowing them to sit in on the court cases where landmark decisions were made. The only trouble with virtual reality experiences is that they’re usually limited to one person wearing a headset. That’s why Generation Beyond, an educational subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, has turned a school bus into a huge, mobile virtual reality platform that allows a whole classroom of students to take a shared tour of Mars. They call the bus the Mars Experience
Each of the windows in the bus was replaced with a transparent 4K display and a layer of glass film which becomes opaque when an electric current is applied to it. This lets the vehicle transform from an ordinary school bus to a roving VR platform at the flip of a switch. Once the VR is enabled, the simulation begins tracking the movement of the bus to create a dynamic virtual experience. Each time the bus turns, hits a bump in the road or changes speed the simulation of Mars reacts accordingly. The system’s designers mapped their simulation onto the streets of Washington, D.C. so the bus can move freely around the city while maintaining the virtual environment in a 250 square mile area.
The simulation was designed by Framestore, the same VFX studio that created many of the landscapes in the sci-fi thriller The Martian. In addition to the VR-enabled window panels, the team also outfitted the bus with a surround sound system to add an extra layer of immersion to the experience.
To learn more about what went into the creation of the Mars Experience, check out this video from the design team!