The Earth never looked so three-dimensional.
At July’s New York Tech Meetup, the intrepid team from The Satellite showed off their out-of-this-world idea for a real-time, big-screen exhibit that lets people see our planet as if they were looking down from the International Space Station.
The Satellite isn’t a business in the making—it’s an art project, attempting to use data and visual technology to create a new perspective of the planet. But the technical wizardry being employed by project directors Dana Karwas and Gabriel Winer impressed the crowd at this week’s meetup, where it was showcased as the “Hack of the Month” among the other demos (see slideshow above).
Regulars of NYTM, a monthly staple of the New York tech scene, have come to expect the Hack of the Month to be wacky at times. Past examples include Emergency Zack Morris, which played audio clips of the “Saved by the Bell” character when people called a certain number.
But on Tuesday night, things got stellar.
The Satellite’s aim is to combine sensing data and live imagery gathered from space to give people a view that few here on terra firma can experience. “We’re going to create this moment where you can look at outer space from the Earth,” Karwas said.
The team is pulling in data from satellites and other sources, Winer said, which includes details on sunlight, weather, the aurora borealis, polar ice, and live lightning strikes. “We’re building that into a photo-real visualization using a gaming engine that we’re building from scratch,” he said.
How close to reality do they think they can get? Winer said the goal is to get the resolution beyond the perceptual levels of humans. “You wouldn’t be able to see any pixels,” he said. “This would be as real as the image could possibly be.”
At the moment, the team is creating visual layers for land, atmosphere, and reflective effects. “The trickiest part at this stage, in terms of the visualizations, is the clouds,” Winer said. “We’re pulling in live alpha channels of clouds and using those in a generative particle system to develop three-dimensional clouds.” Shaders are then applied to that composite visual data to create the photographic effect in real-time, he said.
All of this is intended be presented like an art installation, designed to enhance the experience. That would include multiple projectors, a spherical screen, and other custom architecture.
Karwas said they are working in partnership with the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering at its Media and Games Network center in Brooklyn. An exhibition is planned for early 2015, she said, at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn.
João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @jpruth.