Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will receive augmented reality headsets as part of Nasa's latest resupply mission. Two Microsoft HoloLens devices will be sent as part of Project Sidekick, which aims to explore applications of holographic computing in space exploration.
"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 ISS," Sam Scimemi, 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."
The HoloLens headsets will improve communication between astronauts and ground control by allowing technicians in Houston to view what an astronaut is seeing in real time using the remote expert mode. The augmented reality functionality will mean ground control staff could draw the astronaut's attention to a specific button or piece of hardware in their field of vision.
A second mode on the device acts as an instruction manual for the astronaut. Procedure mode is expected to explain tasks by placing animated holograms on top of whatever an astronaut is working on.
"As opposed to virtual reality, which removes you from the real world, with HoloLens the real world plays just as much into the experience as the digital assets," said Alex Kipman, a Microsoft software engineer who worked closely on the HoloLens. "We're adding photons to the back of your eye. They feel anchored and pinned in the real world, but are see through.
"Microsoft HoloLens is about transforming the ways you create, connect, and explore. Sidekick is a prime example of an application for which we envisioned HoloLens being used – unlocking a new potential for astronauts and giving us all a new perspective on what is possible with holographic computing."