Microsoft has already talked about working with NASA on its HoloLens mixed reality (MR) head-mounted display (HMD). A brief clip of a user walking the virtual surface of Mars could be seen back at the kit’s reveal in January 2015. The app was named OnSight. Today however the pair are announcing another official partnership for a HoloLens project set to be used by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). That project is Sidekick.
Sidekick uses the HoloLens itself as an aid for these astronauts. A pair of HMDs will be heading to the ISS via SpaceX’s seventh commercial resupply mission that starts on 28th June. It’s suggested that the kits could be used to help with crew training and to increase efficiency. This will be done using two modes. The first is ‘Remote Expert Mode’, allowing an astronaut to communicate via video with a NASA ground operator that can guide them through specific tasks with visual aid. Communications for these tasks have previously been restricted to written and audio delivery.
The second mode, ‘Procedure Mode’, creates holographic illustrations on top of items that the astronaut is working with. The idea behind this mode is to provide yet more guidance, this time in deep space where communication is limited.
The two organisations have already tested the tech aboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet to make sure that it functions just as one would expect in a normal environment. The first kits to arrive will allow the crew to test and verify the software, while more HoloLens units delivered at a later date will allow them to test the Sidekick functionality with network connectivity for the Remote Expert Mode. The first proper use of the device is set to occur before the end 2015.
“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,” said Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars.”
The Sidekick project isn’t just for the ISS, either. It will also be used on the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 20, beginning 21st July in the Aquarius, the world’ only undersea research station.
VRFocus will continue to follow the latest updates on HoloLens, reporting back.