Virtual reality software developed to help explore Mars
now can help contractors “build” complex industrial
facilities even before breaking ground.

The Mars Map virtual reality software guided NASA scientists
through the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission by allowing mission
scientists and operations personnel to command and control
remote robotic spacecraft within a virtual environment. The
3-D imaging software was developed at NASA Ames Research
Center, Moffett Field, Calif. San Jose-based Reality Capture
Technologies, Inc. (RCT), which recently received a license
for further development of the platform, has made this part
of its integrated life-cycle information-management platform.

“RCT’s software platform enables fast-track design and
construction at lower risk and reduced costs,” said Reality
Capture Technologies CEO Dr. Ted Blackmon. “It is a highly
advanced, computer-integrated management tool that reduces
rework and schedule and cost overruns on complex construction

One of RCT’s first software modules enables engineers to
complete construction sequences and test various aspects in
virtual reality before building an actual structure. By
fusing software systems used during the design stage with
those used during construction, RCT provides virtual access
to a construction site and permits project personnel to
manage, assess, control and respond to changes on complex
construction projects more effectively.

“RCT’s products help our customers to deliver their products
to market sooner and facilitates ongoing maintenance of a
production plant, ” Blackmon said. “This translates directly
into increased revenue potential and lower operating costs
for our customers and has a positive effect on a
corporation’s bottom-line profitability.”

An Ames science team originally developed Mars Map to create
a photographic-quality rendering system. Mars Map allowed
researchers to better understand the surface of Mars and
perform more effective science by providing an accurate
visual representation of the planetary terrain.

“The Mars Pathfinder mission was the first test of this new
class of photo-realistic virtual reality systems,” said Dr.
Michael Sims of Ames, who managed the Mars Map development
team. “Mars Map made a big difference in our understanding of
Mars during Pathfinder, and made us realize that this
technology could be an extremely powerful tool for the
rendering of the world.”

“RCT uniquely addresses the link between various stages of a
facility’s ‘life-cycle,’ leveraging information generated
during the design stage through construction and subsequently
into operations and maintenance,” said Blackmon. “By
leveraging advanced software originally developed at NASA for
the space program, we are able to effectively ‘bridge the
islands of automation’ that exist in the engineering/
construction/operations industry today, and interconnect
traditionally stand-alone software systems into an end-to-end
distributed computing platform.”

“This company is a resident of the Ames Technology
Commercialization Center, a technology incubator located in
San Jose,” said Phil Herlth of the Ames Commercial Technology
Office. “This successful transfer of the software
demonstrates how NASA’s Commercial Technology Offices perform
their mission of maximizing NASA’s research efforts. “