Guest blog: Observe the Moon in Augmented Reality

Posted by Nicole Kiefert
on Wednesday, September 13, 2017

You’ve Got the Whole Moon in Your Hands

By Leah Froats


Ever wanted to hold the Moon in the palm of your hand? Well, now you can … sort of.

AstroReality, a branch of Quantum Technologies, now offers an augmented reality (AR), 3D printed lunar model that allows for exploration of the Moon’s notable features and landing sites. Astronomy received the LUNAR Pro model, AstroReality’s most advanced Moon model, for review — here are our thoughts.

The model

According to its IndieGoGo campaign page, the AstroReality LUNAR models “are up to 1:116,020,845 scale high definition 3D printed and hand crafted.” The printed models are hand-painted for total precision and accuracy.

Speaking of accuracy, the LUNAR Moons are modeled to 0.006 millimeters per pixel precision, based on data captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. This means all your favorite lunar features will be exactly where they should be — AstroReality is not messing around, here.

The LUNAR Pro model is surprisingly heavy and is satisfying to the touch, with each crater and other topography rendered in precise relief. 

The app

The model’s app, simply called AstroReality, is a little difficult. Upon opening, the app will prompt you to scan the QR code in your LUNAR’s instruction manual, which will allow your device to then pair with your model. The QR pairing was an easy process, but actually accessing the LUNAR’s AR capabilities was a little trickier.

I’m not sure if it just takes the app some time to load the high-resolution AR, or if there are still some kinks to be worked out in the app. But it took a couple force-closes, uninstalls, and retries before I finally got the AR portion of the app to open successfully. However, after I got it to work the first time, it now works promptly each time I open the app.

It doesn’t help the somewhat difficult process that the instruction guide provided with the LUNAR Pro appears to be written in Japanese. It’s possible this guide is only included in press models and that a different manual may be provided to buyers.

The experience

Other than the initial hiccups in the app, the LUNAR model is honestly pretty cool. The model itself is quite beautiful and makes for a nice display piece, and the AR functions are both interesting and educational. 

However, the AR does occasionally falter, making for a less-than fully immersive AR experience. If the model moves too far out of your device’s field of view, it prompts you to re-center the model and begin again. I can imagine this would be especially frustrating for those unfamiliar with AR apps — particularly children.

Also, if you use the application with headphones, the AstroReality app will play calming ambient music for your lunar exploration. A nice touch.

The LUNAR Pro is an interesting novelty, but the functionality is a bit limited. I can see it being used effectively in classrooms or other learning settings to inspire a fascination with the Moon. But in terms of a personal curio or gift for a loved one, I’m not sure how much use it’ll get. It does look great, though. If you’re looking for something to look nice on your desk and aren’t too concerned about the advanced AR functions, the LUNAR Regular or Mini will do just fine.

All in all, AstroReality’s lunar models represent a new era of astronomy education. As the company grows, hopefully it can expand upon the AR capabilities of its offerings. 

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