Blast Off: The Internet of Things Is Headed to Mars

January 4, 2017 Jonathan Crowl

internet of things

Today, Mars is the next frontier for space exploration, and NASA plans to send astronauts to the Red Planet sometime in the mid-2030s. A private company called Mars One has set even more aggressive goals, with plans to send up 24 volunteers on a one-way trip to Mars. Once there, they will be tasked with starting the planet’s first human colony, according to Space.com. That colony is pegged for launch in 2025, assuming there are no hiccups along the way.

In the meantime, the robot world is zooming ahead of humans on the space exploration front: the internet of things has plans for its own Martian voyage. While NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to rumble across the planet’s rust-colored landscape gathering information, conducting studies and sending back captivating pictures to Earth, NASA is using consumer tech to bridge the gap between Earth and Mars in new, exciting ways.

Mars Sunset

In other words, your in-home digital assistant can now offer a direct line to a database filled with all new kinds of information about Mars. New technologies and continued exploration will guarantee that the database continues to grow, making the Red Planet more accessible and familiar than ever—and providing a powerful lesson on the ever-evolving possibilities driven by IoT.

Why Send Tech to Mars?

Sending rovers, satellites, and other space-exploration tech offers obvious benefits: Scientists are working to gather as much data as possible to learn about Mars, our solar system, and beyond. Robots are a cost-effective way to do this, especially when we have yet to send people beyond our own moon.

The average citizen might not understand why there’s a need to involve consumer tech. Everyday consumers aren’t scientists, and there’s little practical they can do with the information pulled from Mars and other extraterrestrial technologies.

But many people have an innate interest in the discoveries coming from space. That interest is its own asset. IoT can leverage consumer tech to deliver content that powers new experiences, especially ones that increase familiarity with Mars while educating and engaging people on the significance of space exploration—organizations like NASA depend on government funding to run its various research and missions, so maintaining public support is critical.

Although private companies aren’t privy to government funding, they’re still able to remain solvent only by the continued patronage of their customers. In that way, experiences can play a critical role for brand marketers as well as space explorers. Meanwhile, NASA and other organizations—notably the consumer tech makers it partners with—benefit from demonstrating their innovative efforts to a large global audience. These companies can entrench themselves as thought leaders in their tech specialties.

Ultimately, there is an opportunity to use IoT as part of the information-gathering work being done on Mars and elsewhere. Consumer tech is a quickly evolving ecosystem, and scientists in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory believe that IoT could eventually play an active role in groundbreaking research and scientific breakthroughs, according to FedScoop. In the meantime, tech will be leveraged to connect the citizens of Earth with exciting experiences out of this world.

Mars Rover

A Blueprint for Building Experiences

Just as IoT and other Mars-centric initiatives can foster excitement and support for these costly, resource-intensive expeditions, brands can leverage experiences to drum up similar forms of loyalty and investment on the part of consumers. NASA is using IoT to create familiarity with Mars, which many consumers only know in a general sense. The organization is hoping that greater familiarity will stoke a more active interest and greater support for the various missions taking place with regard to space exploration, and Mars in particular.

This information is being powered through solutions like Amazon’s Alexa, a digital voice service available through the Amazon Echo in-home digital assistant. Curious about the oxygen content of Mars’ atmosphere? Alexa can get you the answer. Wondering how long a day lasts on Mars? Alexa can tap into a database of information about Mars and pull up the relevant answer in no time at all.

That’s just the start of leveraging IoT to build more connected experiences. Solutions such as virtual reality could eventually build immersive experiences that let consumers virtually walk on the surface of Mars. Not only will connected devices on Earth be given access to information about Mars, but connected devices could even become part of the fact-finding missions taking place on the planet, collaborating from two separate planets in an effort to learn more about our closest intergalactic neighbor.

It feels far away from the mission of marketing technology, which often has a much more direct goal: to increase conversions and sales for brands. But many brands also acknowledge that, in today’s world of commerce, even brands selling products and services are simultaneously selling an experience. Certain aspects of your marketing likely look a lot like what NASA is trying to accomplish by making Mars more accessible from Earth. And NASA itself is transparent about that process, which makes it easy to glean insights and strategy that could be applied to innumerable brand marketing scenarios.

Lessons in Applied Science

If you’re a science geek, no one needs to sell you on the excitement of bringing consumer tech to Mars. If you’re a brand marketer, though, it’s not always easy to connect the dots. Mars is a planet; you might be tasked with selling shoes, or increasing subscriptions to a streaming service. It’s apples and oranges, but they find common ground where experiences are concerned.

Companies selling basketball shoes might choose, for example, to offer in-store VR stations that allow shoppers to compete with NBA players who are signed to a particular shoe company. Or, they could integrate with healthcare wearables to provide stats about a consumers’ biometrics during activity—running and cycling apps have already capitalized on this opportunity. Streaming services could gift subscribers with early access to exclusive content like 360-degree video, or they could offer song samples through in-home digital assistants.

Retail stores are well aware that their best success is found when they turn the store into a destination. You can design promotions and ramp up mobile marketing and do all the right things in this digital age, but nothing is quite as compelling as an experience that shoppers simply can’t afford to let pass by. Whether that’s a single compelling installation, or a vibrant frictionless ecosystem built on consumer tech, is up to every brand to decide for themselves.

Just as access to information and content builds interest—and, therefore, support—for future Mars missions, brands can use content to increase store traffic, product purchasing, and consumer preferences for that particular company. Experiences integrate with a consumer’s everyday life, and those consumers almost always lean in to positive engagement. Marketing technology can provide such experiences on a one-to-one level, and when in doubt, they can draw their inspiration from the stars.

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