Software for a shared virtual reality stargazing experience.
What its all about
Have you ever been stargazing before? Have you ever seen the Milky Way with your own eyes? Getting a guided tour of the night sky is an amazing way to explore your Universe but these types of astronomy talks are often thwarted by clouds and light pollution from cities. We want to give people a way to experience stargazing without having to worry about the weather - welcome to the StarsightVR project!
We are astronomers from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and using a small grant from the STFC, we have been able to adapt the Stellarium planetarium software package to work with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset which gives you a first-person view of the simulated night sky. Even better, we can also connect multiple people to the same stargazing talk which means you don't have to touch the controls and can rely on an astronomer to guide you through the night sky, while you look freely around. Anyone anywhere on the web can connect meaning you can enjoy a great view of the night sky, with guided tour, all from the comfort of your own home.
Where we are now
We have developed a working prototype of the software, and run demos at several public events. People loved it! It's a truly immersive experience, made even more enjoyable because you have a professional astronomer guiding you through everything you need to know about the Universe.
What we need next
The code isn't finished yet. The additional funds will allow us to fix bugs, improve stability and add functionality to make the experience as rewarding as possible. Based on what it took to develop the prototype version, we estimate that this will need roughly £10,000 to buy time from our external software developer and also allow the purchase of any extra hardware required for testing. StarsightVR has been developed using the Oculus Rift DK2 headset so a version that runs well on this will be our first priority. Additional money will go towards adapting the software for other headsets/platforms - hopefully inlcuding the first commercial release of the Oculus Rift due in early 2016.
Will it be free?
Our software will be free to download and the live shows will also be free, run by volunteer effort. All of the money raised will go into testing and improving the software. You'll need the hardware to run StarsightVR of course, and we'll let you know what the minimum required specs are as the software develops. We've designed things with virtual reality headsets in mind but even if you don't own one of these fine pieces of kit you should still be able to take part (just without the immersive grooviness).
Join the trial shows
As part of our testing process, we plan to host live stargazing talks which you will be able to connect to using our software. We're very keen to find an active community to help us test the software, refine show content and help decide on the top priorities for future improvements.
Our rewards are a little unusual - we can't offer much but what we'd love to do is include your names in the app itself. At the end of a stargazing talk we can hit a toggle button which will turn on the display of any names attached to celestial objects as a way of saying thanks. The brighter the object the rarer it is so we've scaled the amounts to try and take that into account. All the money raised will go straight into testing, refining and improving the software.
Keep in touch
We have a project web site, that will gradually get more sophisticated.. this is where you will be able to download the software, and see the schedule for live shows.
Many thanks and clear skies!
Andy Lawrence and Alastair Bruce