Our Sci-Fi Future Is (Almost) Here

I was thinking last night just how visionary the field of space exploration was back in the ’70s and ’80s. It pretty much bled into the media and fueled the wonderful world of science-fiction in its myriad forms we see today (except the alien sex part).

Sadly we’re still a great distance away from colonizing the moon or building space habitats like the iconic Stanford torus (yes, I just learned what it’s called). Not to say we haven’t made notable progress but I’ve pretty much come to terms with not seeing the beautfiul, pitch black expanse of space with my own eyes. Sure, I could have tried to be an astronaut by starting a decade ago but that’s too much SCIENCE! for my tastes. Besides, I learned at an early age just how deadly space dust is – I already have enough bloody trouble with Earth dust.

Interestingly enough, as the space business becomes a privatised endeavour, NASA has started approaching game developers to see how they can collaborate and explore space together.

“There are two major roles for games in space exploration,” explained Jeff Norris, manager of the Planning and Execution Systems Section at the JPL [Jet Propulsion Lab], talking to Develop.

“One is as a medium for communication and sharing our missions. Part of NASA’s core mission is to share our exploration with the world. Games have turned out to be a very important medium for doing that. But then, of course, the second application is using the gaming technologies themselves to control robots in space exploration.”

Develop – Space Invaders: NASA’s call to game developers

Imagine using motion sensors and virtual-reality headsets to control a robotic avatar that’s “this far” from us. Oh, and you must click on that link.

Motion sensors and virtual-reality headsets, you say? Oh, you mean like the Kinect and Oculus Rift? Yes! But no this isn’t going to be about games – let me briefly go through their applications outside the target medium.

Let’s start with the Kinect*, my least favourite of the two. Microsoft’s little camera senses motion and depth, meaning you get a 3D working space rather than plain 2D. Theoretically, advanced versions could lead to something as precise and intuitive as Jarvis’ holograms in the ‘Iron Man’ movies, so there’s definitely interest from both medical science and engineering fields. There’s also room for it in interactive media and art, such as ‘Fearful Symmetry‘ and ‘Ballantine’s Leave An Impression‘.

*Disclaimer: My prejudice stems from the piss-poor implementation it has to do with games and how, more often than not, it just feels shoved in so Microsoft can go, “Hey kids, it’s better with Kinect!”

As for the Oculus Rift**, the possibilities are equally endless. The crowdfunded virtual-reality set has predictably gotten people excited thanks to its wide field-of-view, high definition displays and low-latency sensors. Basically, it’s the best option to “step into” a virtual world right now. That opens up so many doors I’m not even going to list them.

**Disclaimer: I want an Oculus Rift so bad.

Hell, here’s Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters giving it a go and talking about it some:

So let’s put two-and-two together and imagine walking on the surface of some distant planet with all the freedom of motion that your arms, hands and torso will give you. Yup.

If you ask me, I’m absolutely fine with something like that. Excited, even. It’s not space but it’s the next best thing I can get. So go ahead and queue for those mobile phones and tablets – I’ll be over here waiting for the consumer versions of Rift to announce. (Maybe Google Glass too but I have my doubts over the voice recognition.)

P.S. Tumblr has an adult filter right?

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