On Sunday, June 28th 2015, two Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headsets were sent to the International Space Station (ISS) via a SpaceX Dragon resupply mission, which carried various supplies and other much-needed cargo to the final frontier.
The HoloLens headsets are part of a new NASA project called ‘Sidekick’, and they’re supposed to help facilitate communications between the astronauts and their technicians back here on Earth, reduce their training time and help them perform their tasks more efficiently. The need for verbal instructions will supposedly be replaced, in part, by the use of specially designed holographic animations.
The Sidekick headsets will eventually be able to perform in two basic modes; the first mode, aka ‘Remote Expert Mode’, will be purely communicational, as it will connect the astronaut to a technician on Earth via Skype. It is important to note that the technician will be able to jot down information or draw sketches that the astronaut will be able to see, which can be very helpful, as some more technically oriented tasks require more than just verbal communications in order to be completed successfully. However, the aforementioned headsets are not meant to work in ‘Remote Expert Mode’; this particular mode will be tested at a later time, with 2 new headsets being sent into space by NASA.
This time around, the headsets will help test the second mode, aka ‘Procedure Mode’, which involves the HoloLens’ ability to project 3d holographic models and animations over the astronauts’ real-time viewing. This exciting new technology is very innovative and practical, and it is bound to be very helpful to the astronauts when they are required to perform certain tasks, as it will probably be way easier for them to complete their work, if they can actually watch a holographic representation of how it is supposed to be done, in real time!
Regarding the project, NASA’s Sam Scimemi said: ‘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. This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars.’
HoloLens designer Kipman said, in a statement: ‘Sidekick is a prime example of an application for which we envisioned HoloLens being used – unlocking new potential for astronauts and giving us all a new perspective on what is possible with holographic computing’
NASA and Microsoft’s next project, called ’OnSIght’, will revolve around enabling scientists to utilize advanced holographic computing technology in order to work on various projects in real-time, by controlling rovers on Mars, as if they were driving them in a virtual reality environment!
Holographic technology has advanced by leaps and bounds during the past few years, and we are glad to see that it is being put to good use, for the benefit of all mankind. As long as such important technological advancements are utilized in a meaningful way, driven by our species’ sense of wanderlust and our need to explore the unknown, there can actually be hope for the future!