Wondrous as technology is, there remains no feasible way to put ordinary people in space. Except, it seems, through virtual reality. Australian multimedia company Opaque Multimedia has combined an Oculus Rift headset with Microsoft Kinect 2 motion tracking to make it possible to go to the International Space Station.
The comapny’s new tech demo, Earthlight, lets players explore in first person around the outside of the ISS as it orbits the Earth, safe in the comfort of their living room. Earthlight may not capture every element of the real experience, but it was designed to get as close to it as possible. Move your hands out in front of you and you’ll see in your headset a space-gloved hand exactly where you’d expect it to be. Similarly, reach out to a handle or bit of scaffolding and give it a tug and your virtual self will begin to float forwards. And as you explore you might just see the Earth as it looks from 431 kilometers (268 miles) above.
It was difficult to make this work from a technical standpoint because even a millisecond delay or minor deviation between your movement and your avatar’s movement can make the experience more horrifying than exhilarating. Project lead Norman Wang says that to keep it running smoothly they had to push both the software and hardware to their limit.
The project’s main goal was to demonstrate how the two technologies can be made to work together at the limits of their current capabilities, and to show off the power of a Kinect 4 Unreal plugin developed by Opaque Multimedia for use with Microsoft Kinect 2 and Unreal 4 on Windows.