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Project Sidekick: NASA's Use Of Microsoft's Hololens

NASA are turning to VR in space

11Dec

In January 2015, Microsoft released the first promotional video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aThCr0PsyuA] for the the Hololens, marking the company's first foray into virtual reality.

While the product is unlikely to be available for public purchase until mid-2016, Microsoft recently announced a partnership with NASA, which, according to the space agency, will 'empower astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS)'.

The product is currently being tested by those on the ISS, but the astronauts will have to wait until June 28 2006 to use it in an official capacity. A pair of devices will be onboard SpaceX's seventh resupply mission to the station, with the plan to gradually incorporate the technology into future trips.

At the moment, astronauts at the ISS rely on written guidance through iPads and computers for instruction, or voice guidance when carrying out complex procedures. The Hololens would represent a real improvement. Regarding the product's advantages, Scott Kelly, who's currently on the space station, says: 'if you could have a procedure right in your field of view, something that was command-able [sic] with your voice, where you could scroll through the different steps, that would be helpful.'

The project is called 'Sidekick', and has already been tested at NASA's 'Weightless Winder C9' jet to determine how it functions in free-fall. The initiative will be split into two modes. The first, called 'Remote Expert', will enable experts on the ground to help the astronauts with more precision. Through the Hololens, engineers would be able to see exactly what the astronaut is looking at, while also being able to write in their field of vision.

The second element is called 'Procedure mode' and consists primarily of holographic instruction manuals, which, as mentioned by Kelly, will be available on-demand. This would expedite the process of fixing and maintaining hardware, and improve the quality of maintenance.

With a mission to Mars still a priority for NASA, the partnership with Microsoft will also be used to develop their 'OnSight' software, which will hopefully help scientists conduct research on the red planet. The program is already being worked on in NASA's laboratory in Pasadena, with Program Executive for the Mars Science Laboratory mission, Dave Lavery, stating: 'OnSight gives our rover scientists the ability to walk around and explore Mars right from their offices,' further claiming that it could change 'our perception' of what the planet is like.

Alex Kipman, part of the Windows and Devices Group says: 'Microsoft HoloLens is about transforming the ways you create, connect, and explore,' and with a mission to Mars seemingly destined to happen, VI could become an important part of the process.

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