The U.S. space agency NASA has partnered with Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, to challenge developers to create a Martian Metaverse experience called MarsXR.
The challenge, which was posted on the crowdsourcing problem-solving platform, HeroХ, calls for developers to help NASA in building an environment that will include various tasks, like designing several key environments for Martian astronauts.
The challenge aims to populate an existing Metaverse, which now has 400 km2 of Mars terrain mapped out, with realistic day/night cycles, all modelled with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5, which will also be used by the developers to create their submissions.
The virtual experiences that NASA has described as categories for the challenge include set up camp, scientific research, maintenance, exploration, and a general category called ‘Blow Our Minds’, each one with a different task to complete. In each scenario the developers need to create assets and processes that future astronauts can follow while wearing the VR headset to prepare for the mission.
‘Creators can use Unreal Engine to build realistic simulation scenarios to help prepare NASA for future missions, whether that’s to the moon or to Mars,’ said Seb Loze, Unreal Engine business director for simulation at Epic Games.
The challenge will reward the winners with a total prize of $70,000, shared across 20 winners. So, each prize for every category will about $6K.
This challenge has gathered a lot of attention from developers, who want to contribute to NASA’s Martian Metaverse, according to project’s HeroX page. 78 teams and 763 innovators are already contributing to the construction of the Martian simulation, which will help the agency to cut costs by using a virtual reality module known as Apache to train upcoming astronauts in various experiences.
There is certainly some fair criticism to be made with regard to NASA’s crowdfunding Mars experiences. From all the teams that put their spare time into this project, only 20 get the prize money. NASA, by all means, should have enough funding to employ development teams to create the experiences it is looking for. It doesn’t make the project any less interesting, or make the hard work of these teams less valuable. Let’s hope all Mars projects will be properly demonstrated when NASA’s challenge is met.