How Virtual Reality Will Change Our World

Over the last half century, pundits and prognosticators have waxed poetic about the potential of virtual reality (VR). Unfortunately, the technology hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.

But, now, thanks to enormous advances in digital systems, VR finally appears ready for liftoff. By 2018, market research site Statistica predicts that 171 million active users of virtual reality will exist.

One of the more interesting projects taking shape: an immersive virtual reality platform that imagines life on Mars, including weather, buildings, vehicles, farms and clothing. The HP Mars Home Planet initiative was launched by HP with a group of partners, including NVIDIA, Autodesk and Fusion. The system uses a wearable VR PC—dubbed the HP Z Backpack—with special goggles and other gear to create an ultra-realistic Martian experience.

According to an HP press release, “The HP Mars Home Planet project advances work initially done for Mars 2030, a virtual reality experience created by Fusion with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Now, HP and its partners are uniting engineers, architects, designers, artists and students to imagine, design and experience humanity’s future on Mars through VR.”

The virtual reality world is based on an actual site on Mars, Mawrth Vallis (which means “Mars Valley” in Welsh). It depicts what one million people living and working on the red planet would look like. Yet, the VR environment isn’t just fun and games. The project will generate data that NASA and others might use to design future habitats and environments on Mars.

“The goal of the project is to engage creative thinkers to solve some of the challenges of urbanization on the red planet,” HP noted.

Participants will use Autodesk software on HP Z workstations with NVIDIA Quadro graphics to create the transportation and infrastructure framework. They will also develop 3D models and renderings that ultimately produce the virtual reality experience of life on Mars, including vehicles, buildings and entire cities. An advisory board includes leading experts from Technicolor Experience Center, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and the University of Arizona.

Make no mistake, immersive multimedia virtual reality is finally taking shape. And while the mission to Mars may seem a bit out there, it’s important for business and IT leaders to tune in.

Over the next decade and beyond, VR is almost certain to impact, if not revolutionize, industries as diverse as retail, travel, medicine and engineering. It will change the way we view the world—and other worlds.