In Orbit is an installation that transforms the most recent data collected by NASA’s Earth-observing missions (satellites that are gathering information about the earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land) into a multi-sensory, interactive virtual reality experience.
The end-to end experience is truly full stack, including custom fabricated touchscreen mounts that stand in the dirt of the botanical garden, a virtual reality experience that pops up in the pavilion and a website that works on phone, tablet and desktop.
The project was a collaboration between MAP Design Lab, Microsoft, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The Huntington Library and Composer Shane Myrbeck. Glowbox designed the experience from the ground up (literally), providing strategy, design and development for the physical installation and virtual reality experience in the botanical garden, as well as the companion website that allows users to see imagery from their session and learn more about the data that is being gathered by NASA’s Earth science missions.
One of the project goals was to utilize the installation on an ongoing, pop-up basis for educational purposes, requiring a light-weight hardware solution that could be easily set up and taken down. With this in mind, Glowbox used compute shaders to create a dynamic field of 500,000 particles that the audience interacts with while maintaining seamless, high frame-rate playback, so the experience can be driven by a high-end laptop (instead of bulky desktop computers) without sacrificing performance.
The VR experience is built using Unity, and the on-site touchscreen companion app that controls the session and data upload is a separate UWP XAML application. The website visualizes the point clouds using WebGL and three.js. Data from NASA for consumption in the experience is processed using nodejs.
In Orbit is currently part of regular programming at the Huntington, popping up in the Orbit Pavilion at the Huntington Botanical Gardens every Thursday during garden and museum hours from October 25 until March 28, 2019.
The experience is now available in the Microsoft Store (using the Windows Mixed Reality platform) for exploration in the classroom or at home and it will soon be available for free on Steam.