HP's virtual reality simulator will 'build' a colony on Mars

HP is hooking up with chip company Nvidia and others in a "Mars Home Planet" project where participants will make 3D models of Martian buildings, cities, vehicles and infrastructure.

The ultimate goal is to create a virtual reality (VR) simulation of life on Mars for 1 million people by building on the Mars Valley terrain from Fusion’s “Mars 2030” game, which is based on NASA research.

NASA has already identified Mawrth Vallis [Mars Valley] as a potential landing site on Mars and that will be the model for the modeling and rendering, according to HP.

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“Through HP and partner technology, we are unleashing engineers, architects, designers and students to help anticipate and solve the real world problems we’ll face to inhabit Mars one day,” HP said in a statement. "People here on earth will be able to experience what life on Mars might be like."

The “collective vision” will be presented in 2018 as a “blueprint for the future,” HP said.

Of course, this assumes that the initial monumental challenges, like reaching Mars and subsequent survival, have already been solved. But that aside, the first 10,000 participants to register for the project will get a free Fusion Mars 2030 VR download, available in early August.

HP’s VR hardware

HP also rolled out a new virtual reality backpack for training in dangerous environments and virtual walkthroughs “at scale” of building designs.  

One of the biggest challenges of VR is that it requires powerful chips and a connection to a power cord. To solve that, the untethered VR Backpack comes with dual batteries that are easily swapped “to provide unrestricted freedom within an immersive experience,” HP said.  

And to mitigate dropped frames – a problem with underpowered VR experiences – the backpack uses an Intel Core i7 vPro processor and an Nvidia Quadro P5200 graphics chip with 16GB video memory. An additional docking solution allows more demanding content design.

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The 10-pound backpack has a quick release and quick snap on design. The harness has two shoulder straps and a belt strap.

Thirteen immersion centers will open later this year, including Palo Alto, London and Beijing, among other cities around the world. They have been designed to get customers up to speed on immersive VR computing and to learn how to deploy HP’s VR technology.

HP Z VR Backpack is scheduled to be available in September, starting at $3,299.