Microsoft Corporation has a new mission statement given Steve Ballmer by which is to “create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value the most.” Microsoft Corporation, according to its new mission statement, plans to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. As an integral piece of the latter part of this mission statement, Microsoft Corporation is teaming up with NASA and plans to equip astronauts with HoloLens headsets to be used on space missions.
NASA and Microsoft Corporation are teaming up for Project Sidekick. Project Sidekick is an experiment that will be sending visual holographics to the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). The images that will be sent will be projections visible in their field of view. The Virtual Reality technology could assist astronauts with experiments while offering a full demonstration at the same time. NASA also wants to try the HoloLens glasses with the astronauts at the ISS in order to assist them with complicated procedures that are necessary to be done in space.
The press release states that the HoloLens glasses will be launched on the seventh commercial re-supply of SpaceX Dragon, scheduled to launch on June 28. It is the hope of NASA that the astronauts on the ISS will be able to use the HoloLens near the end of the year. The HoloLens has the capacity to help astronauts is two different ways.
First, the “Remote Expert Mode” uses Microsoft’s Skype so the astronaut can establish a connection to a ground operator for real-time communication purposes. The HoloLens will allow the ground operator to see the same things the astronaut sees. This will enable the team to relay guidance in real-time and be able to draw explanations for the environment around the astronaut in order to assist through difficult tasks, experiments and repairs.
Currently, astronauts receive instructions through a written note or verbally when complex repairs or experiments are necessary. This is the accepted norm, but it can be frustrating and unproductive.
The second way the HoloLens glasses will be able to help astronauts, is in the “Procedure Mode.” When the HoloLens glasses are in “Procedure Mode” it augments actions that are standalone by using the animated holographic illustrations. These holographic illustrations will be displayed on whatever object the crew member transmitting with the glasses is working with at the time. The HoloLens will decrease the ISS training time for future crews because they can get on-site hands-on training. This new piece of technology should also have a positive impact on the delayed communication issue, which is a significant struggle in outer space. The HoloLens glasses and possibly other Virtual and Mixed Reality devices can drive future explorations by providing new capabilities to the astronauts on the ISS.
The director of the ISS program, Sam Scimemi, stated in the press release that this new technology has the ability to empower the future of explorers who will require an even greater autonomy on their journey to Mars. The press release also states that the ISS is a place that helps humans try new technology and create new researchers that cannot be tested on Earth.
Since November 2000 one team at a time has manned the space station and over 200 people have been to the ISS. The ISS will be a springboard for NASA’s next projects, the exploration of Mars and an asteroid.
In order to get a feel for the project, the Microsoft engineers, and NASA as a team, have tested Project Sidekick on NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet, which ensures that the HoloLens is working the way it should while in free-fall, just as it should work in zero gravity.
When the HoloLens gets to the space station, astronauts will be testing the hardware and software of the holographic computer in a standalone model, once that test results are positive there will be a new shift of devices delivered for any future missions.
NASA will also use Sidekick for Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO). Beginning July 21 there will be 20 exhibitions. This project requires astronauts and engineers to live in Aquarius, an undersea research station. The habitat is the only one like it on Earth and its purpose is to provide a space exploration simulation. Researchers will be spending two weeks in Aquarius.
This is not the first time NASA and Microsoft Corporation have teamed up together. The two have created and are still working on OnSight. OnSight is a project that will also assist NASA scientists to see Mars simulations.
By Jeanette Smith
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Photos courtesy of:
Isriya Paireepairit’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
NASA’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
gilipollastv’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
NASA’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License