Do you remember Project Sidekick? It ‘s the name of the collaboration between Microsoft HoloLens headset and NASA: two samples of Microsoft’s new product for augmented reality vision have been sent to ISS, the International Space Station, for testing and studying the use of alternative realities in space.
The first step, actually, was to test the headset off the coast of Florida during a NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) mission, held underwater to simulate absence of gravity and extreme conditions. After this test, HoloLens reached the international team of astronauts to be tested in orbit. Sidekick Project has two modes: Remote Expert Mode and Procedure Mode; the first one lets experts on the ground see through Skype what the astronauts are doing, helping them with difficult and delicate tasks, the second helps astronauts learn how tools and machines work. All this is possible taking advantage of augmented reality.
Sam Scimemi, director for International Space Station at NASA headquarters, said about these tests that “HoloLens and other virtual and mixed reality devices are cutting edge technologies that could help drive future exploration and provide new capabilities to the men and women conducting critical science on the International Space Station.”
For sure HoloLens is pretty handy in situations in which it’s necessary to be supported by the ground base o to fix a broken machine, but this doesn’t kill the recreational side of the device; Tim Peake and Scott Kelly, part of the ISS Team, took advantage of this to have a pause from work and test augmented reality in space, but another kind than the one you could expect: in the video they play an interesting Space Invaders match in the air 😉
One of the most famous augmented reality headsets (even if it’s not yet sold to the public) is surely Microsoft HoloLens; here on Experenti’s blog we talked about it more than once: from the news saying it will be soon on the market to the important collaborations (we talked just few weeks ago about the last one with Volvo for its augmented showroom), to the crucial partnership with NASA for their use inside the International Space Station ISS.
Specifically, we followed the interplanetary sequence of events step after step: in June it was announced the SideKick program to launch the famous headsets to the ISS together with the supplies, and also were announced the tests held during the underwater expedition NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) to understand until what point HoloLens could be used in more complex missions, as the ones on Mars.
During last days some other HoloLens headsets reached the ISS, and astronauts Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko answered to some questions asked by the magazine Popular Science on the use of these devices in space.
“You know I actually got the opportunity to try that out before I launched, and it seems like there are certain capabilities that would be good for us onboard the space station. One would be, you know right now we look at the computer or an iPad to look at procedures. And if you could have a procedure right in your field-of-view, something that was command-able with your voice, you know where you could scroll through the different steps, that would be helpful. It also has this capability where somebody on the ground perhaps could be looking basically at what you’re looking at, and be able to write in your field of view. So let’s say we’re working on a piece of hardware, and we’re not that familiar with it, but we have an expert on the ground, you know that person could basically see what we’re seeing and make annotations, point to things, and kind of lead us through a particular activity. You know that’s one of the many capabilities of that, or similar hardware, that we’re excited about.”
You can watch the video with the complete interview here.
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There’s nothing to say: Microsoft’s augmented reality headset, the famous HoloLens, knows how to make people talk. After the demonstration at gamers’ conference, during which Microsoft showed us the future of Minecraft when implemented with augmented reality, we passed directly to the collaboration with NASA and the space missions. In fact, as already said in a previous post, HoloLens will be used on the ISS, the International Space Station, to help astronauts especially for solving technical issues; in particular it will be used in the missions to Mars, where, since of the distance, the communication are delayed (up to 24 minutes!) and this could create complications in case of malfunctioning.
A HoloLens headset would have reached already the International Space Station, but unluckily it was destroyed in the explosion of the Dragon spacecraft the 28th June. Anyway, even if not in space, the device is being tested: part of the equipment to test, in fact, was destined to be tried underwater, in the NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) station, operative 45 feet (17 meters) underwater off the coast of Key Largo, Florida.
This month NEEMO will house four “waternauts” for 14 days: the captain of the mission, Luca Parmitano (a veteran of Expeditions 36-37 in 2013), never-flown astronauts Serena Auñón (NASA) and Norishige Kanai (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and David Coan, NASA EVA management office engineer. Two technicians, who are also professional divers, live with them in the habitat to run the facility. The mission, started the 20th July, will test some equipment (between which a HoloLens headset and a second headset from another manufacturer) in a extreme environment, similar to the space one, and will help the astronauts getting used to the gravity conditions on asteroids (very low) and on Mars (about 1/3 of Earth gravity).
“We can learn about interaction between crewmembers and the ground control,” Parmitano said of the mission in a televised interview on NASA Television. “We can learn about procedures and ways to make our work effective.”