SXSW 2017: Buzz Aldrin Shows Us The Pathway To Mars Colonization

by Charles Singletary • March 17th, 2017

Update: The full Buzz Aldrin: Cycling Pathways to Mars experience is now available in Time Inc’s LIFE VR app on Steam and Viveport. The full experience is coming soon to the Oculus store.

Software company 8i is leading the charge for volumetric human capture, a key technology that could have a lasting importance across virtual platforms. Digitally created characters are very detailed and can leave an impression in interactive and/or cinematic experiences but, when attempting to recreate real people, there’s a level of realism that just isn’t reached. 8i’s holograms are bringing real people into virtual experiences with a high image quality that doesn’t break the immersion and they have the tech on display for their narrative experience Cycling Pathways To Mars at the 2017 South by Southwest show (SXSW).

Buzz Aldrin, one of the legendary astronauts from the world’s first moon landing, is the subject of 8i’s tech in Cycling Pathways To Mars. Aldrin and 8i previously collaborated on Message To Mars, a project that could combat mission isolation for astronauts, and this new experience is essentially an extension of that. Aldrin has had a complex theory for how the colonization of Mars would begin, but it was not something easily explained to those that don’t share Aldrin’s level of expertise. The immersion of VR coupled with Aldrin’s knowledge made for a narrative experience where his words are brought to life and viewers, such as myself, come away with a much better understanding.

Cycling Pathways To Mars places you on a platform with a projection system on the floor that displays the virtual Buzz Aldrin as he theorizes the different steps needed to move toward Mars colonization. As he walks us through his ideas, the space around us unfolds to match what he describes. We’re shown his original moon landing, the moon of the future, the proposed journey to Mars on massive ships called “Cyclers” and, finally, the Mars colony. The experience is running on an HTC Vive in roomscale, so you’re able to walk around the platform and get a look at things from a different perspective.

Planets fly through you as you’re surrounded by the solar system and you’ll even fly through the Cycler and get a close look at its components. There was an interesting interaction I was making that I didn’t realize until my host told me after the hands-on. Ben Stein, 8i’s General Manager, pointed out I gave Buzz Aldrin’s hologram a wide berth and those before me had done the same. I moved through the other digital assets with no problem, but I really felt like Aldrin was sharing the space with me. 8i has shared images of their volumetric projections before, but seeing one close up really reveals how impactful they can be.

If you’re at SXSW, you owe it to yourself to check out Cycling Pathways To Mars. It is being hosted at the Marriott in downtown Austin until Thursday March 16. On Friday, it will be available through TIME Inc so others can experience it as well.

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  • Blair Renaud

    Wtf is going on with Buzz’s eyes in that picture? It’s like when you draw eyes on your eyelids.

  • Ryan Knapp

    Very cool experience. Requires a hefty machine to run. My GTX1080 had a few frame drops but it might be more of a CPU bottleneck.