Back in December, Microsoft and NASA teamed up to send a Hololens to space. Everyone’s favorite (active) astronaut, Scott Kelly, just posted a photo to his Twitter account. Petty earthlings, this photo seemed as if to express, you are, I’m afraid, light years behind me on the coolness continuum.
The actual caption was far more genial: “This #saturdaymorning checked out the @Microsoft #HoloLens aboard @Space_Station! Wow! #YearInSpace.”
Someone might wonder both a) why astronauts might need mixed reality headsets while in space and b) how astronauts could possibly be impressed by anything, even mixed reality, given that they’re in space. And both are reasonable to wonder. The answer to a) is that, in short, two Hololens-exclusive modes will assist astronauts as they carry out extraordinarily complex tasks 250 miles from earth.
First, these headsets will enable “Remote Expert Mode” (which sounds like something that we’d all benefit from): While executing a repair, for instance, an operator on the ground will be better able to direct the astronaut with Hololens to complete his or her task. In NASA’s words, REM — not to be confused with REM or R.E.M. — allows these on-the-ground facilitators “to see what a crew member sees, provide real-time guidance, and draw annotations into the crew member’s environment to coach him or her through a task.” Whereas before Hololens, “crew members have relied on written and voice instructions when performing complex repair tasks or experiments.”
Second, they’ll enable “Procedure Mode,” which does exactly what you’d think it’d do. But let’s let NASA throw some fancy words our way: Procedure Mode …
… augments standalone procedures with animated holographic illustrations displayed on top of the objects with which the crew is interacting. This capability could lessen the amount of training that future crews will require and could be an invaluable resource for missions deep into our solar system, where communication delays complicate difficult operations.
All of us petty earthlings ought to rejoice, because — thanks to Hololens — the bar for becoming an astronaut just plummeted.
As for b), well: mixed- and virtual-reality can be mind-boggling. Even if you’re in space.
Kelly has a mere nine days left onboard the ISS after his year in orbit.
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