NASA has released a new video of a test flight in its Weightless Wonder jet, which simulates weightlessness when the jet freefalls to Earth. This isn't just for fun, though: the ethereal, free-floating passengers are equipped with some unassuming glasses that could revolutionize life on Earth, in space, and maybe even on Mars.
This futuristic pair of glasses is called the "HoloLens" and has been created by Microsoft. NASA will send a pair of these glasses to the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend. You can see them in action in this video release by NASA.
NASA Testing Project Sidekick. NASA.
The hand-waving and voice commands might seem confusing to a bystander, but these people are actually testing a piece of software called "OnSight." The glasses use this software to create a holographic display with which the wearer can interact.
NASA has been interested in taking the HoloLens into space. The HoloLens represents a large bundle of equipment that would all be very useful up in the remote expanses of space, all squeezed into one little headset. Flying computers out of the atmosphere is difficult enough, and scientists have to be very selective about which instruments can make the journey. Weight, size and functionality all need to be taken into account, and often beloved projects have to be harshly cut because they don't fit the criteria.
There are some incredibly innovative features that could transform how astronauts work on the ISS. One of them is called "Remote Expert Mode," with which an operator on the ground can use Skype to see whatever the astronaut is seeing. Then the operator can write useful notes and sketch in the astronaut's field of view. This sort of software has obvious applications on somewhere remote like the ISS, where sending up an emergency handyman is not possible. An expert on Earth can direct astronauts on the ISS; this could reduce the amount of training astronauts need and increase their efficiency when working in space.
There's also a brilliant "Procedure Mode," which places a holographic drawing over things with which the astronaut interacts. These sorts of application won't become part of everyday ISS life to begin with. The astronauts on the ISS at the moment will use the HoloLens to test both the hardware and software. A second set of glasses will be sent up to the crew in a future mission.
If all goes well on the ISS, then there may be the potential for using HoloLenses to explore Mars. Scientists will be able to use data from the Mars Curiosity rover to explore the surface of the Red Planet using the HoloLens. The applications of the HoloLens has the potential to make exploring Mars more satisfying, collaborative and productive. The data could also be accessed by anyone. (Imagine popping to Mars on your lunch break!)
Microsoft HoloLens & NASA OnSight discussing walking to Mars from your office. NASA and Microsoft.
[H/T: The Verge]