NASA has been one of the biggest proponents of both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology for awhile now. The space agency has sent Microsoft’s mixed reality (MR) headset, HoloLens to the International Space Station (ISS), and combined the HTC Vive with the Manus VR gloves to train its astronauts. And these are still early days for the technologies as companies and institutions develop ever more inventive uses. But in 10 years time NASA believes VR/AR/MR will become standard tools for its workforce.
In a NASA article this week the agency sees the immersive techs potential as being boundless. “It’s really becoming pervasive and just we want to help our workforce figure out how to best take advantage of that in a safe and secure manner,” said Ed McLarney, an information technology specialist at NASA Langley who is helping spearhead virtual reality efforts. “The future is here and we got to get with it. It’s another game-changer that’s upon us now.”
One of the ways NASA has been using HoloLens for example is through its Sidekick project. This allows the agency to test out ways to remotely assist and increase the efficiency of astronauts on missions.
“This is just going to be like any other tool,” said Josh Kinne, a deputy project manager in NASA Langley’s Flight Projects Directorate. “So the same way CAD tools have changed the way we design things … this is just the next evolution in that. This is going to be the way we visualize information going forward and this is going to be a standard tool we take for granted in another 10 years.”
NASA isn’t just using one or two headsets, its experimenting with all of them, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR are all being experimented with to examine the short and long-term goals for VR integration.
“Virtual reality and augmented reality used to be too expensive or too challenging for an individual researcher to use on their own,” Kinne said. “The way the hardware has become commoditized … means that even with a basic understanding of these 3-D engines, you can actually create meaningful content as actual applications or for research and development.”
“This is not a technology that NASA needs to invent for itself,” McLarney said. “It’s one where industry and academia is inventing it for us and we need to figure out how to apply it.
“We know that in 20 years, technology is going to do all sorts of crazy things we can’t even imagine today.”
VRFocus will continue its coverage of NASA and its latest VR/AR and MR projects, reporting back with any new announcements.