I am one of the true space probe fanatics who’ve been tracking the Mars Curiosity Rover’s progress since it was announced five years back. Eight months ago, when the Mars Science Laboratory launched on an Atlas V rocket, I marked my calendar for this summer’s landing. On August 5, I watched the unbelievable perfect touchdown on a laptop in bed, tears welling up in my eyes in sync with Mohawk Guy’s.
As I’ve obsessively downloaded each new image coming from the rover, I discovered a great lesson in interactivity worth sharing. People regularly ask me what’s the value of interactivity – what do interactive screens, walls, floors, and tables add to an experience above and beyond an ordinary picture or video? The two images below help to explain.
I found this first image on the NASA MSL page – a beautiful high-resolution panorama of the Curiosity Rover and its surrounding landscape. Obsessed to see as much as possible, I dug into the high-res version, and zoomed around with my browser to get a sense of what it’s like to be on Mars. It was cool, but my brain couldn’t quite figure out how to unwrap the weird warping that turned the rover into a long strip of metal across the bottom of the screen. The experience felt like examining photographic evidence than actually being there. It felt flat and dead.
With a “mars rover” Google alert that’s been in action for more than five years, I get a lot of extra information, and a French link stood out the next day: “Le site de Curiosity, au cratère Gale, en full panoramique!” The author had created a QuickTime VR of the same Mars scene. Now with an interactive display, I could magically look around, as if mounted on the rover’s camera, and zoom in and out too. The difference was astonishing – now I really felt as if I were looking through a window to Mars.
The lesson is clear: if you take the same picture data and drive the view based on one’s own decisions on where to look, all of a sudden it’s like you’re right there at Bradbury Landing. As humans, we interact with our surroundings, not stare at a picture of them. In its dynamic interactivity, this little web app, based on Apple’s technology from the early 1990s blows away even the highest-resolution images. All simply because you can interact.
Click on the picture above to experience it yourself. Scroll down to the second image on the page, press SHIFT and CONTROL to zoom in and out, and your arrows to control direction.
- Scott Snibbe