spaceSpace and Physics

NASA Has Swapped High-Tech Goggles For 3D Cinema Glasses To Control Curiosity Rover During Lockdown


Rachael Funnell

Digital Content Producer

clockApr 16 2020, 21:28 UTC

Yeah, you remember these. Odua images/Shutterstock

“In these strange times,” is a phrase getting a lot of airtime lately. But a real testament to the accuracy of the sentiment must surely be that NASA, one of the most technologically advanced institutions on the planet, currently has its staff sporting red-blue 3D glasses straight outta' the 50s in order to man the Curiosity Mars rover.

Many of us are currently slouching our way towards a posture reminiscent of Quasimodo as work from home measures see rickety coffee tables and lumbar-neglecting kitchen stools constituting offices. The substitutions for conventional kit keep coming, but perhaps the best yet has to be those for the Curiosity Mars rover team, who accustomed to state-of-the-art equipment are now wearing retro cinema glasses in the name of planetary exploration. The team have had to trade their Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California for their living rooms as Curiosity waits for no pandemic, but the hurdle has offered an opportunity for some pretty creative improvisation.

Members of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission team photographed themselves on March 20, 2020, the first day the entire mission team worked remotely from home. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Famed for their out-of-the-box thinking, NASA scientists were faced with a challenge when it was realized that the high-tech goggles usually used for assessing the Red Planet’s terrain wouldn’t be suitable for a home office environment. In a NASA statement, they reported that the team “rely on 3D images from Mars and usually study them through special goggles that rapidly shift between left- and right-eye views to better reveal the contours of the landscape. That helps them figure out where to drive Curiosity and how far they can extend its robotic arm.”

Unfortunately, those specialist goggles require the advanced graphics cards in the high-performance machines (which are actually repurposed gaming computers) at their JPL digs. So, in the spirit of “improvise, adapt, overcome”, the team have switched to analyzing 3D images on ordinary laptops using the cinema-style specs, and it seems they're actually a passable alternative. “Although not as immersive or comfortable as the goggles, they work just as well for planning drives and arm movements,” the statement continues.

It has to be said though, the glasses just don’t quite have that out-of-reach NASA technology vibe to them. These simple strips of duo-tonal film may have enabled a socially isolating team of scientists to remotely operate a vehicle carrying out ground-breaking research on another planet, but didn’t anyone think of the fashion?!

spaceSpace and Physics