Up, up and away: NASA is taking HoloLens into space

The devices will help those in space have been communication from those back on Earth

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
June 26, 2015
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Why is everything cooler if it's in space? Seriously, think about that. Monkeys are awesome, but monkeys in space? So much cooler. Playing golf? On Earth, eh. Alan Shepard playing golf on the moon? So cool. And the same thing can easily be said for augmented reality as well. 

Microsoft's HoloLens, its augmented reality headset that it revealed earlier year, is taking a long trip upwards, as NASA has announced that it will giving the device to its astronauts who are traveling to the International Space Station on Sunday.

This is part of a new project, called Sidekick, in which astronauts will use HoloLens provide virtual aid to "provide provide virtual aid to astronauts working off the Earth, for the Earth."

Here was Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's reaction to this news:

There are two mode of operation for Sidekick. The first is called “Remote Expert Mode,” and that involves Skype allowing a ground operator to see what a crew member sees. This will allow them to provide real-time guidance, and draw annotations into the crew member’s environment to coach him or her through a task.

This is a major upgrade, as crew members have traditonally relied on written and voice instructions. Now the people who are stuck on Earth will be able to see exactly what the astronaut sees. 

 The other mode is called “Procedure Mode,” and this augments standalone procedures with animated holographic illustrations, which are displayed on top of the objects with which the crew is interacting. This would mean that astronauts wouldn't need as much training.

It also "could be an invaluable resource for missions deep into our solar system, where communication delays complicate difficult operations," said NASA.

Both of these modes underscore the ultimate goal of Sidekick, which is to be able to give station crews the assistance that need when and where they need it. NASA expects astronauts on the station will first use Sidekick by the end of the year.

“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,” Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars.”

AR and VR

Augmented and virtual reality are about to break out in a big, big way. By 2020, the augmented reality and virtual reality will combine for a $150 billion business. That is up from what looks to be around $5 billion in 2016.

So what exactly is the difference between VR and AR? VR puts users inside virtual worlds, immersing them, while AR puts virtual things into users’ real worlds, augmenting them. Basically VR is something you wear on your face, like Oculus VR, while AR is like wearing a phone on your face, like Google Glass.

Virtual reality is built for games and 3D films, but is primarily used indoors, at home. Augmented reality, meanwhile, doesn't have the full immersive experience as virtual reality does, but it can be used in more situations.

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