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Microsoft and NASA are bringing augmented reality goggles to space

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If you thought Microsoft’s HoloLens demonstration at E3 was impressive, wait until you hear what NASA has in mind for the device. Not that playing Minecraft or talking on Skype through augmented reality isn’t mind-bogglingly amazing, but considering how Microsoft and NASA are working together to bring the device to the International Space Station (ISS) to potentially increase astronaut efficiency and reduce training requirements, playing video games and chatting with your friends kind of pales in comparison.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the HoloLens is new headset that Microsoft has been working on for a while. Think of it as being somewhere between Google Glass and the Oculus Rift in terms of what it does. Whereas Google Glass is more of a smartphone for your face and the Oculus Rift is a full-blown virtual reality headset, HoloLens is what we call an augmented reality headset.

What this means is that it enhances the world around you by supplementing it with virtual sensory input. Virtual reality tries to immerse you into an entirely new, entirely synthetic world that’s separate from the real one. Augmented reality, on the other hand, shows you the real world as is it is in real-time, but it also adds virtual elements such as a chat box or television screen that you can interact with. To get a better idea of what I’m talking about, check out the HoloLens unveiling that Microsoft released in January.

It’s funny how things like augmented reality used to be exclusive to science fiction movies, and now we have companies releasing augmented reality headsets that anyone can buy. But while commercial use of the headset is interesting and exciting, it’s when research organizations like NASA use HoloLens that we can really see what the technology is capable, and what kinds of doors it can open up.

“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, in the agency’s statement on its official website. “This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars.”

Known as Project Sidekick, the program that Microsoft and NASA are working on will see a pair of the HoloLens goggles shot up into space during SpaceX’s commercial resupply mission this Sunday. Once onboard the ISS, astronauts will begin verifying the device’s hardware and software functionality offline while exploring its viability. Once that’s completed, another pair of the goggles will be sent to the ISS so that crew members can conduct similar tests with network connectivity. NASA expects astronauts to begin using HoloLens before the end of the year.


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