HP Wants to Use Their Professional Z VR Backpack to Help Build a Virtual Mars Colony

The HP Z VR backpack has an extra boost of graphics power to make business and science applications run smoothly.

VR backpacks! They’ve been a thing ever since MSI showed theirs off last year at Computex, and since then, we’ve seen plenty of others. By putting a high-powered PC in a backpack form factor, users can wear these to get a full range of motion with their VR experience — those wires going from a VR headset to the PC don’t tie you down when the PC moves along with you! Thus far, we’ve mostly seen VR backpacks marketed towards gamers, including the one HP made in their Omen line. But, at the SIGGRAPH conference going on this week, HP introduced a VR backpack that isn’t playing around — the Z VR Backpack.

The Z VR Backpack is perfectly capable of playing games, of course, but that’s not really what it’s here for. By giving it a sleeker (read: not red and glowing) look, HP is tabbing this as a professional device. That’s reflected in the specs — while the usual Intel Core i processors and a heaping helping of RAM (up to 32 GB) are here, HP has used snappier Nvidia Quadro graphics (a P5200 16 GB card) instead of Nvidia’s usual gaming GPUs. That makes the PC more expensive, but it also gives VR applications the power needed to run high-res graphics with no lag or stuttering.

So, when we’re talking the business of VR, what do we mean? Turns out, there’s plenty of good reasons why VR is well suited to suits. Real estate agents can use VR headsets to give prospective buyers virtual tours of homes they might be interested in, while factory supervisors can take a look at working conditions and the placement of machines. Retail managers can play around with different layouts in a virtual setting, and virtually any industry can use VR for training purposes.

Oh, and it’ll let NASA play SimCity with Mars, too. Also at SIGGRAPH, HP revealed Mars Home Planet, a VR project that can give users a look at what a bustling Martian colony would look like. Best part? They’re letting everyone play along with them. HP has gotten together Nvidia, Technicolor, Fusion, Autodesk, Unreal, Launch Forth and Vive to lay down a lot of the groundwork, but they’re looking for regular users to work with engineers and architects to build out this future Martian colony. They’ve opened signups, with the first 10,000 registrants getting a free copy of Fusion Mars 2030, the VR application that will be used in part to create all the buildings, roads, tunnels, and whatever else we can expect whenever Elon Musk finally gets us to the red planet.

The Z VR Backpack is being sold as the ideal development tool for Mars Home Planet, of course. But, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that, like a trip to Mars, it’s not going to come cheap. The Z VR Backpack will start at $3,300 when it becomes available in September, and that doesn’t include what you’ll need to spend on a VR headset if you don’t have one already.