We took an AR trip to the moon


Whether it’s the proliferation of science-fiction movies that show man exploring the stars, or bold claims from the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking about imminent space colonization, there’s a collective interest in space right now that doesn’t look like it’ll die down anytime soon – or at least not until we’ve set up camp on Mars.

But how much do you really know about the universe? Unless you’re a serious astrophile, the chances are you do little else than look at cool photography, follow Nasa on Instagram (if you don’t, you seriously should) and retweet nuggets of Elon Musk’s wisdom about taking us all to space. 

A company called AstroReality wants to change all that, and deliver education about space that’s more accessible, interactive and tech-enabled than ever before – and there isn’t a dull textbook in sight.

Lunar ambitions

AstroReality has big, bold plans about space education. But the company’s first creation is an extremely detailed version of the moon called the AstroReality Lunar. Although the model itself is extremely cool, and would look damn fine on your desk, there’s a lot more to it than looks. 

The company claims it’s not only the most precise model of the moon on this planet, it’s the only AR-enabled one that’s this detailed. The team at AstroReality have mapped the most famous moon spots on the model, which you can explore with AR tech and a dedicated smartphone app.

It created the model using data from Nasa, state-of-the-art design tools and sophisticated 3D printing tech. Look closely and you’ll see the craters Copernicus and Petavius – and 2001: A Space Odyssey fans will be happy to spot Clavius too (just be sure to put some ear muffs on before you head down into the crater).

We tested out the prototype for ourselves. All you have to do is let the app track the surface in front of you with a QR code and labels about sites around the moon pop up in front of you, with the features set to get more advanced over time.

There are three different versions of the AstroReality Lunar: the Mini at 3cm, the Regular at 8cm and the Pro, which comes with more feature, at 12cm. 

It’s a great way for people to, quite literally, get to grips with space, and it’s not hard to imagine who might benefit from an interactive, AR-enabled model like this, from those who are just interested in space to kids in an education setting. 

But although the Lunar model is fascinating, it’s only the start for AstroReality. We spoke to James Li, founder of AstroReality, about what the future holds for his moon models, AR and learning about space.

How to build a moon

The process of creating the Lunar was a painstaking one. “We used [digital modeling tool] Zbrush to design the Lunar model integrating Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s data early on in our process,” Li explains.

“Data is downloaded from NASA LROC – the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC, is a system of three cameras mounted on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) that capture high-resolution black and white images and moderate-resolution multi-spectral images of the lunar surface. We leveraged the high-resolution Elevation Map and Global Map.”

This promotional video shows the process…