Flat-Out Magical: NASA Scientists Will Work on Mars with the OnSight HoloLens Application

NASA and Microsoft have teamed up to develop OnSight, a new Virtual Reality (VR) technology that will enable scientists to work virtually on Mars together, using the recently announced Microsoft HoloLens.

Also read: Upcoming: Microsoft’s HoloLens Augmented Reality Headset

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) plans to begin testing OnSight operations later this year. Dave Lavery, program executive for the Mars Science Laboratory mission at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said:

OnSight gives our rover scientists the ability to walk around and explore Mars right from their offices. It fundamentally changes our perception of Mars, and how we understand the Mars environment surrounding the rover.

The HoloLens is a “face-computer that looks like a pair of space-age sunglasses,” with a look between Google Glass and Oculus Rift. The device contains a see-through display that allows users to see, and interact with, holograms.

The HoloLens is Flat-Out Magical

Mars, Gale Crater
Mars, Gale Crater

OnSight will use real data from the Curiosity rover mission and create a 3-D simulation of the Martian environment, where scientists from all over the world can meet. Program scientists will be able to examine the rover’s worksite from a first-person perspective, plan new activities and preview the results of their work firsthand.

Planetary scientists and members of the Curiosity mission team, wearing the HoloLens headset, will be surrounded by images from the rover’s Martian field site. They then will be able to stroll around the rocky surface, examine rocks and features from different angles, and program the activities of the rover. That will permit studying Mars and planning the mission in a more natural, human way. The scientists will see each other as ghostly holograms, collaborate and discuss.

Writing on Ars Technica, Peter Bright reports that he found the HoloLens and OnSight flat-out magical:

I walked around a 3D world constructed from data captured by the Curiosity rover. (NASA intends to use HoloLens to explore data from Curiosity and collaboratively make decisions on how the rover should spend its time.) The experience reinforced just how immersive this kind of augmented reality can be; the Martian imagery obliterated most of the room I was in, except for a computer workstation. I joked that I was surprised to see a computer desk on the Martian surface, because that’s what I was seeing. On Mars I was also joined by a second person, who appeared before me as a sort of golden apparition. This other person was using HoloLens, too, and so I could see a gaze line emanating from the face, showing me exactly what was being looked at. The apparition talked to me about some of the rocks and how they indicated that we were likely standing in what was once a lake bed.

Jeff Norris, OnSight project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said:

We believe OnSight will enhance the ways in which we explore Mars and share that journey of exploration with the world. Previously, our Mars explorers have been stuck on one side of a computer screen. This tool gives them the ability to explore the rover’s surroundings much as an Earth geologist would do field work here on our planet.

Future applications may include Mars 2020 rover mission operations and other applications in support of NASA’s journey to Mars.

Images from NASA and Microsoft.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.