June was an altogether unlucky month for SpaceX, as its rocket heading to the International Space Station blew up midway, taking the prototype of two HoloLens headsets with it. The explosion was not only a major shock for SpaceX — considering the massive finances and efforts involved in the launch –but also set back Microsoft’s ambitious HoloLens project by several months.
Nevertheless, Jeff Norris, the project manager for two HoloLens projects, remains undaunted and is already busy with preparing for the next launch.
According to Jeff, his team at NASA is getting ready to load the second batch of HoloLens on the commercial cargo launch by the aerospace company Orbital Sciences to resupply the space station, scheduled for December the 3rd.
HoloLens is Microsoft’s brainchild. Prepared as part of the software giant’s attempt to produce devices that introduce augmented reality, the lens has virtually limitless applications, from playing games that mix digital 3-D creatures with reality or talking with remote friends as if they are right next to you. However, games and earth based communication apart, they are apt to prove virtually priceless to Astronauts in space. Lets take a look at how.
Imagine you are an Astronaut sent by NASA to explore the heavens, however, suddenly you come across a task which is beyond your ability — a leaking faucet perhaps, or a cut wire or something of the sort. Now, you are in space so you can’t very well pick up your phone and place a call to your next door electrician or plumber, and again, being in space resources are at a premium.
Well what do you do? You simply place the HoloLens headset over your eyes and lo! You are surrounded by 3-D images that show the Astronaut (that is, you!) which lever to move or which button to press. The headset can also connect you to a remote expert, who can guide you with accuracy.
That is Microsoft and NASA’s vision at least, and with some luck it might just come true. Not only that, NASA is also working on a database management app, that can be used to recognize an object and show the HoloLens wearer where that object is stored among the space station stores.
NASA has already begun experimenting with the HoloLens at the Aquarius underwater research station. Astronauts used the device to get assistance checking emergency breathing equipment, finding and plugging in equipment and setting up an apparatus to support an undersea robot with an expert helping them out over HoloLens using a Skype program, custom-built by Microsoft. A camera lets the remote expert see what the astronaut is looking at, while a feed on the latter helmet shows him the former. The expert can also draw in mid-air to point out things that the astronauts would see on their HoloLens headset.
Norris is still cautious though. While he certainly agrees that the potential for the HoloLens in such a scenario is virtually limitless, he also mentions “enormous challenges” associated with the task, such as building th user interface. Speaking on the topic he said,
“The rules are different when you’re now rendering information all around a person,
Well, the project may certainly make life easier for astronauts exploring the heavens, and who knows, those of us on mother earth could someday be performing tasks normally beyond our abilities, using some expert help through HoloLens too.
According to CEO Nadella, the ‘Expert’ Lens will be available to developers within the next year, although the timing of a consumer release is still unknown.