HoloLens, Microsoft's upcoming augmented-reality headset, is being tapped to help astronauts perform tasks and run experiments in zero gravity.
On June 25, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Microsoft announced SideKick, a project that will have HoloLens report for duty aboard the International Space Station (ISS). In its Twitter account, NASA posted a video of HoloLens being tested aboard the Weightless Wonder, the space agency's C9 jet used in reduced-gravity training.
"Sidekick uses Microsoft HoloLens to provide virtual aid to astronauts working off the Earth, for the Earth," the organizations said in a separate June 25 press statement. "A pair of the devices is scheduled to launch on SpaceX's seventh commercial resupply mission to the station on June 28."
Microsoft introduced HoloLens in January during a Windows 10 press event. The headset overlays interface elements and 3D visuals, or "holograms," onto the real world. Earlier this month, the company wowed E3 attendees with a demo of the technology using a new version of Minecraft, the popular Lego-like game.
Microsoft has yet to announce details on HoloLens' release. However, that hasn't prevented partners from lining up.
Early supporters include Disney, Legendary Pictures and Unity, a video game engine maker. Also onboard is Autodesk, which envisions using HoloLens to advance 3D printing. "3D printing is incredibly promising, but also still too complex and unreliable," Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager of consumer and 3D printing at Autodesk, said in a statement. "This relationship is a key step in making 3D printing easier and more accessible to businesses and individuals alike."
NASA hopes the tech will further its abilities to gather science in space.
"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, NASA's director of the ISS program, said in a statement. "This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars."
NASA plans to use HoloLens to deliver assistance as users go about their duties, potentially cutting down training requirements for astronauts. In early demos, Microsoft showed how HoloLens can be used for Skype video calls, allowing specialists to assist in repairs or collaborate on technical projects.
In Sidekick, this is dubbed "Remote Expert Mode," and is viewed as a major upgrade to the written or voice-guided methods of the past. "Procedure Mode," on the other hand, "augments stand-alone procedures with animated holographic illustrations displayed on top of the objects with which the crew is interacting," said NASA.
In addition to space, HoloLens is soon headed underwater. "Sidekick also will be used and evaluated during the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 20 expedition set to begin July 21 when a group of astronauts and engineers live in the world's only undersea research station, Aquarius, for two weeks," stated NASA.