back to article NASA dons red and blue cardboard 3D glasses to drive Curiosity rover because its GPUs are stuck in the office

NASA has reverted to using old-school red and blue 3D glasses to direct the Curiosity rover around Mars. The downgrade was necessary as the space agency's staff have been sent to work from home. When in-office, staff who operate the Curiosity peruse 3D images of the red planet through special goggles that rapidly shift between …

  1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    The Reg is curious why NASA, which has a budget of $22.6bn for this year, appears to have essentially admitted that it cannot remote into the high-performance PCs or create a GPU-packing virtual desktop in the cloud

    If the NASA techs are using special goggles connected to high-performance graphic cards then remoting into the controlling PC won 't help, the goggles probably have a hard-wired cable to the card. Unless you have the same card in your home PC you're out of luck. Still, it's good to see that NASA are still masters of the workable string & duct tape backup plan.

    1. Paul Kinsler


      ...and also this solution is cheap to implement, and even makes good PR (would any one have reported "NASA buys some hi-spec graphics cards to help with virtual rover-driving"?). Win-win, it seems to me.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: curious

        Although some beancounter would come back and say why ain't you using the cheap stuff to start with?

    2. druck Silver badge

      We were doing 3D with BBC Micro's and LCD glasses back in the 80's, so it didn't require enormous GPU power! It used a standard 14" Cub monitor, and you stuck two sensors to the bottom left of the screen. The machine swapped images at a flickery 25 times a second, and square was plotted under the left or right sensor location to blank the LCD on one of the lenses. It worked, and hell of a lot better than the red and blue/green glasses stuck to the front of the TV Times, for one of the earlier 3D film fads.

      1. JCitizen Bronze badge

        LCD glasses back in the 80's

        That beats what I was going to point out, that I had LCD shutter glasses for my monitor, which was a 61" LED DLP HDTV bought in 2008 - you would think all devices are 3D capable by now. The cost wouldn't even be a problem because of the rule of manufacture by scale. It all seems so old now - but quite funny with the even older moldy oldie dual color cardboards!!

      2. Getmo

        pictures from Mars

        I'm going to take a wild guess here that the issue isn't just "3D", it's the resolution as well.

        They stated the 3D is important for operating the arm and the equipment on it. Meaning they probably need good resolution as well to make sure they don't bang the arm into a rock and damage it.

        I know scientists also tend to be more interested in non-visible wavelengths than color photographs. It could be they're also flipping through a lot of other sensor data, perhaps some actual 3D mapping, maybe trying to transpose that extra data onto the map. Not tasks that could be easily handled by 1980s equipment.

  2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Late night Reg posting

    The solution is admirably low tech, but The Reg is curious why NASA, which has a budget of $22.6bn for this year, appears to have essentially admitted that it cannot remote into the high-performance PCs or create a GPU-packing virtual desktop in the cloud.

    Google is the cloud. Goggles are not in the cloud. There is no cloud solution to not having the realtime 3D video card and the face goggles that go with it.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Late night Reg posting

      a few years back, when 3D movies started to regain popularity, I wrote an application that lets you take simple 3D photos and produce an anaglyphic (in this case, red/cyan) image from two side by side photos. The idea is to be able to produce the combined image from an imperfect pair, and the image on one side can be moved around a bit to try and accomplish this - ad when you like it, you save the resulting anaglyphic image.

      I put several demo photos on a web site, from shots at the hoover dam [the 3D shot of the generators is pretty impressive] which I literally did by moving the camera 1 foot to the right and taking a 2nd shot of the same basic view. no tripod, just had my arms braced against a rail.

      Also I had written a slightly improved starfield screen saver, simlar to the one that came with windows, and I added anaglyphic 3D t that - stars whizzing past your head, kinda fun.

      Anyway, a resurrection of simple [yet effective] anaglyphic 3D is kinda fun. Sometimes you find that the low tech bandade, spit, bailing wire, and duck-tape solutions are just as effective as spending zillions of dollars on overpriced over-technical "crap" that lines your friend's pockets and looks good in advertisements and presentations, but really doesn't make the difference between success and failure.

      (Small startup businesses have to "make do" with hacker-type solutions a LOT, due to a lack of deep pocket investors, just sayin'...)

      how to do it: produce red-only from RGB image for left eye, superimose green-blue for right eye into new RGB image. Allow creator to move around and rotate [and maybe even skew] one side so that they line up properly. Then you can slloppy take 2 photos, a foot or so apart horizontally, using the same 2D camera, and later tweek one of the photos a bit and combine them so they look good in 3D. Not hard!

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        Re: Late night Reg posting

        I also did the same. I didn't include the positional tweaking in the app, relying on the user doing that first.

        But I used a slightly different method, where you calculate the luminance of the entire left eye image, and encode that in the red channel. It results in a much more balanced image that looks better to the eye when viewed through the glasses.

  3. OzBob

    Cost? Not likely,

    my alienware 3d monitor cost me 400 quid, and the nvidia glasses another 150, and 150 for the card. PC was less than the monitor.

    The kit to run 3d itself is pretty cheap (and mine is 10 years old). If it's a renderer that is needed, that may chew some CPU. But kit like this is such a specialised item that no-one probably thought "hey what would happen if we had to do this from home" and designed it accordingly (plus as Gary McKinnon discovered, allowing remote access also means you have to change default settings).

    1. Boothy

      Re: Cost? Not likely,

      I bought a cheap (less than £200) 120Hz 1080p monitor over 10 years ago for use with my Geforce 3D Vision kit. I'd switch between that, and a (now retired, but still working) 1600 x 1200 (60Hz) for regular gaming.

      Unfortunately the 120Hz monitor died a few years back (did I mention it was cheap?), and the 3D Vision got consigned to a box in the loft as I realised I hadn't used it for a while anyway!

      If I want 3D now, I use an Valve Index :-)

  4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    $22.6bn for this year

    NASA has to pay for SLS development (fortunately RS-25 engine and solid rocket booster design were completed for the Shuttle), restarting production of the venerable RS-25 engine, redesign of RS-25 for modern manufacturing, redesign of RS-25 to make it expendable, new avionics, lighter insulation and an extra segment for the solid rocket boosters, new flame deflector, upgraded flame trench and upgraded crawler transporter for SLS block 1, a new crawler transporter and upper stage for SLS block 2, three Orion capsules and 6 SLS launches (Orions should be able to fly twice each), upgrading SLS manufacturing so that they can be built at a rate of two per year, LOP-G (and a new cargo vehicle that can reach it), a lunar transfer module, descent and ascent vehicles and Boeing wants more money for their half (¾?) of the fixed price commercial crew program.

    On top of all that, NASA does some excellent space exploration and all for about 3% of the military budget.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Real Question

    The real question is, if cheap plastic glasses are 'good enough', why are NASA wasting so much on high-end GPU machines and 3D enhanced goggles?

    1. Boothy

      Re: Real Question

      How do you know how much money they are 'wasting'?

      The only 'gaming' kit (as mentioned in the article) I'm aware of that can do this, was from 10+ years ago, the Gforce/nVidia 3D Vision glasses, even if it was bought new at the time, you'd still only be talking a few hundred dollars or so. All they are is a set of active shutter glasses (same as you'd get with an active TV set), and a small USB IR transmitter to help with the timing.

      Tie that in with a mid range nVidia GFX card and a 120Hz+ monitor (works with CRTs as well), and you're good to go. Even a recent mid range Laptop could do this.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Real Question

        ...and since they are working with two video streams to start with, it should be possible to push the streams through something like FFMPeG and send it out as a stream over the VPN to a cheap 3D enabled screen in half side-by-side or top/bottom format which the screen can understand. Active shutter glasses or passive polarised glasses should both work a lot better than red/blue.

    2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Real Question

      That's like saying if you can watch Netflix on your smartphone, why waste money on a 60" TV and surroundsound system?

      Something that is "good enough" will allow you to do the job. Something more will allow you to do your job better and/or faster and/or more comfortably.

    3. MrDamage

      Re: Real Question

      Why do you waste money on burgers and beer, when gruel and water are "good enough"?

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Real Question

        gruel and grog, maybe?

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Real Question

      why are NASA wasting so much on high-end GPU machines and 3D enhanced goggles

      a) spend it all, or lose it in next year's budget

      b) someone's brother in law or friend owns a company that...

      c) looks good in ads, brochures, and presentations

      d) cool toys for engineers to play with [so you don't have to pay them as much]

      e) expensive stuff justifies begging for bigger budgets

      and so on. It's hard to put a direct finger on it, but I'd say ANY gummint contract is likely to have an element of waste, fraud, and/or abuse in it.

  6. Boothy

    Sounds like they are using old GeForce 3D Vision kit

    Quote: ...they're actually gaming computers repurposed for driving on Mars.

    If this is gaming tech, then it sounds like they might be using the old GeForce 3D Vision tech from the late 2000s (later named nVidia 3D Vision, discontinued a few years back).

    It uses a combo of a high refresh monitor (120Hz+ didn't need to be branded '3D', just 120Hz or faster), tied into a set of active shutter glasses. Basically the same tech that went into active 3D TVs, just driven by a PC and a supporting game engine instead. It uses a USB IR transmitter to get the timings right between GFX out and the monitor.

    I had one of the early sets at home years ago, was quite cool playing something like Arkham Asylum. It basically looked like you were looking through a window onto a real 3D world, but everything in it, like Batman himself, looked like they were toys due to the scale, like playing with an animated action figure!

    Unfortunately it's a dead product, discontinued quite a few years back, with nVidia removing driver support last year (although you can obviously still use older drivers to keep using it for now).

    For WFH. they've presumably just changed the output from the alternating left/right images, to anaglyph mode (i.e. two colour mode). This needs less GPU power, as you can get away with half the frame rate (or less), plus it's not like your playing an FPS, a bit of lag doesn't really matter in this use case! You could probably run this mode on even something like a mid range laptop.

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like they are using old GeForce 3D Vision kit


      ... a bit of lag doesn't really matter in this use case!


      Quite so. Lag will be between 2.4 to 2.7 seconds due to round-trip signal delay to the Moon. An extra few hundred mS due to equipment is hardly significant.

      1. Lennart Sorensen

        Re: Sounds like they are using old GeForce 3D Vision kit

        What does the moon have to do with a mars rover?

        They are viewing data so they can plan what commands to send to the rover on mars. They are not driving it live (the latency would be insane).

        1. MrDamage

          Re: Sounds like they are using old GeForce 3D Vision kit

          Because NASA need to clear all shots of Mars with our lizard overlords on the dark side of the moon to ensure the public aren't made aware of the Democrats child abuse camp.

          1. oldfartuk

            Re: Sounds like they are using old GeForce 3D Vision kit

            i had VIP tickets and all area passes to that until the virus lockdown came along...

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like they are using old GeForce 3D Vision kit

      You could probably run this mode on even something like a mid range laptop.

      Or alternatively it should work ok in a remote desktop environment.

  7. Grivas Bo Diddly Harm

    Edin-bro, er, berg, er, ...

    Shudder to think how they pronounce it.

  8. Annihilator Silver badge


    "they are instead using simple red-blue 3D glasses, similar to those offered for free at cinemas"... in 1965...

    1. Lennart Sorensen

      Re: Flashback

      Or included free with kids magazines or activity books.

      Pretty sure all movie sheathes are using polarized glasses these days.

  9. Zarno Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    I actually did a final project for my digital imaging course on stereoscopic video.

    Made up the spreader bar with adjustment for interocular distance, stuffed two commodity digicams running CHDK on there, and post processed all the frames to work with ColorCode (amber/blue) glasses.

    Pretty sure there were some NASA stereoscopic images of the moon used in the actual course.

    I find the amber/blue encoding method to be clearer than red/blue, but ColorCode is still under patent till 2024.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Is ColorCode actually something very different and innovative compared to using red/blue or is purely down to the colour choices?

      1. Baldrickk Silver badge

        It straddles the colour channels better than Red/Blue, so there is less of a disparity between what each eye can see, making it moderately more comfortable to view.

        Beyond that, it's the same.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RED/BLUE 3D and Late Stage Capitalism

    RED/BLUE 3D is a good enough immersive 3D environment for games, but late stage capitalism means companies only want to the research and sell the most expensive solutions to the richest people, so today we have no mass market 3D gaming, but luxury market VR gear and games.

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Re: RED/BLUE 3D and Late Stage Capitalism

      Oh, I used 3D-Vision Discover back in the day, which used red/blue glasses instead of active shutter. It doesn't compare.

      For starters, there is almost always cross-talk, seeing the red through the blue filter and vice versa.

      Colours are not faithfully represented either.

      Full on 3D vision, which I tried, but didn't own solved both those problems, but was still looking through a window at the scene.

      Given that it was rendered, it actually solved most of the problems that 3D TV and movies have, due to limitations imposed by cameras. Those limitations are part of the reason why 3D TV died so quickly. If more of a push had been made to push 3D gaming, maybe that wouldn't have happened.

      However we now have VR which is altogether completely different and much, much better.

      Luxury? More expensive? Not really, You can get a Quest or Rift for about the price of the monitor you would need for 3D Vision, not including the glasses and transmitter needed. That's not including a decade's worth of inflation. There are also cheaper options, such as the Odyssey+ that was $230 on Amazon before Christmas.

      Sure, there are also more expensive options too.

  11. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Couldn't they just.. a few Alienware or similar gaming laptops or mobile workstations for key personnel to take home? Or perhaps a Vive rig? All are pretty inexpensive considering their budget and what is at stake.

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