It costs millions of dollars to train and put an astronaut into space but as we explore more of the universe and send more people to space the resources aren’t always going to be there. Holograms and augmented reality are going to step up to the plate.
Microsoft’s latest creation, the HoloLens, is being sent to space and one of the perceived advantages it will provide is that astronauts won’t have to be as trained as they previously were.
The headset will give astronauts assistance when they need it, for example by allowing a skilled member of staff on Earth to see what the space explorer sees and then being able to draw annotations and instructions onto the view that’s seen by the wearer.
This approach may mean that astronauts don’t need to be trained in as many specific areas – someone in space could be coached through a repair by an experienced engineer who is located elsewhere.
Officials from NASA see it as a possible way to teach astronauts more skills.
“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,” said NASA’s Sam Scimemi. “This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars.”
The HoloLens has already been tested onboard NASA’s anti-gravity flights and is due to be rolled out to the International Space Station on 28 June, in the next resupply mission by SpaceX as part of NASA’s Project Sidekick.
The project works in two ways: the first is a ‘remote expert mode’ where experts based on Earth use Skype to communicate with and provide real-time guidance to someone in space, as well as being able to annotate the space environment.
The second is a ‘procedure mode’ that augments individual procedures with animated holographic illustrations displayed on top of the objects that the astronaut is interacting with. The approach would mean that the astronaut is directed by their headset and doesn’t need to be trained in what they are doing.
Alex Kipman from Microsoft said that incorporating mixed realities would help astronauts to “unlock new potential”.
When the headsets arrive in space the software and hardware will be tested in the standalone mode, before the remote mode is tested with a second set of devices.
When Microsoft announced the HoloLens, earlier this year, it said it had already partnered up with NASA to put humans ‘on Mars’.
The augmented reality headset will let those on Earth see what the Curiosity Rover, on Mars, can see, allowing them to explore the planet in a new way with visual information and data overlaid onto the wearer’s view.