Microsoft HoloLens Augmented Reality Headset to Conquer Outer Space

NASA and Microsoft are teaming up to develop Sidekick, a new project using commercial technology to assist astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Sidekick uses Microsoft Augmented Reality (AR) headset HoloLens to provide virtual aid to astronauts. Two HoloLens devices are scheduled to launch on SpaceX’s seventh commercial resupply mission to the station on June 28.

HoloLens onSightAugmented Reality (AR) technology overlays the real world with computer-generated annotations and virtual objects displayed by AR headsets. Microsoft made a strong claim to AR leadership with the announcement of the HoloLens “face computer,” a stand-alone headset that resembles a pair of ski goggles and displays holograms over the real world.

HoloLens Technology Could Empower Future Astronauts

HoloLens is impressive and hints at sci-fi-like computing with clearly defined applications to work and entertainment. Though the device, which received rave reviews, is described as an AR headset, it can be used as a Virtual Reality (VR) interface as well. As an example of using HoloLens to stream multi-user VR worlds, NASA and Microsoft are also developing OnSight, a HoloLens application powered by data from the Curiosity rover, which will enable scientists to work virtually on Mars together.

Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, 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.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella proclaimed the announcement “unbelievably cool,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

Project Sidekick will leverage HoloLens AR devices to assist astronauts in operations on the ISS. HoloLens applications will act as interactive virtual operating manuals, and display animated holographic illustrations on top of the equipment and devices that the astronauts are working with. This capability could reduce the amount of training needed before missions, and could be useful for future missions to Mars and the planets, where communication delays limit the possibility to provide realtime assistance from Earth.

“Microsoft HoloLens is about transforming the ways you create, connect, and explore,” said Alex Kipman, a Microsoft technical fellow. He added:

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.

Images from NASA and Microsoft.

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