SpaceVR Plans to Film Virtual Reality in Space
About a year ago, a company called SpaceVR funded the idea of sending a virtual reality camera to the International Space Station using Kickstarter. The company now has a new round of funding along with a change in plans. Earlier this month, at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Expo in San Jose, California, the company announced a seed round of $1.25 million. SpaceVR is however, no longer trying to put a camera on the ISS, rather, the company intends to film virtual reality content from its very own satellite.
SpaceVR CEO Ryan Holmes dubs it “the world’s first virtual reality camera satellite,” and there are plans to launch it early in 2017. “This is an extension of our original Kickstarter goal,” Holmes told The Verge, “but it allows us to do a lot more for a similar spend.”
“THE WORLD’S FIRST VIRTUAL REALITY CAMERA SATELLITE”
SpaceVR originally planned to send a small 12-camera rig capable of shooting 3D 360-degree video to the International Space Station but the Kickstarter campaign, which was launched in August 2015 and which had a $500,000 goal was apparently too intimidating for backers. The campaign was only able to raise a little more than $42,000 before it was canceled by SpaceVR after about a month.
According to Holmes, the company considered the feedback from people who were interested in the project and decided to overhaul and re-launch the campaign in September. The new Kickstarter, which was successful, had a more modest target of $100,000, and the company changed the design of the camera to a 4-lens, 2D setup.
In light of the new funding, however, the company has clearly decided to switch gears yet again. “The majority difference here is that we have complete control over [a satellite], and it can constantly capture content,” says Holmes. “We don’t have to depend on astronauts’ time.” With time being an extremely valuable resource for the astronauts that live and work on the ISS, Holmes says that SpaceVR realized that this would limit the company’s ability to capture content.
This, according to Holmes, made the team decided to think outside the station, eventually settling on a small cube satellite design. The new version of Overview 1, as it is called by SpaceVR, is kitted with two 4K sensors, each equipped with super wide field of view lenses. Each lens will film overlapping footage, which SpaceVR will stitch together (and add some production value) back here on Earth. But the new design, Holmes says, is mostly all about the autonomy.
“We have a radio, we have an attitude control system, we have reaction wheels and gyroscopes that maintain stability, and we have flight controller software that tells the satellite what to do and when,” says Holmes. The SpaceVR team will have the ability to upload schedules to Overview 1 that can tell it where and when to record, and instead of waiting for shared bandwidth to become available (as would have been the case on the ISS), the footage can be beamed back down to Earth immediately.
“It’s definitely different, but I think in the long run it’s a lot better for everyone,” Holmes says. “Now we have the ability to really immerse someone in space as if they were floating outside, which I believe is what most of our backers are really interested in anyway.”
Holmes says SpaceVR plans to capture a few two-minute time-lapse clips per week that will be made available to backers and new customers once the satellite is operational, but the endgame for SpaceVR is to eventually find a way to live stream that footage 24/7. That would provide the ultimate escapist entertainment, providing us Earth-bound humans with the opportunity to experience the overview effect by simply strapping on a headset. Or, as SpaceVR co-founder Isaac DeSouza put it last year, “it’s like Netflix, except you get to go to space.”