Think augmented and virtual reality headsets are just for games? NASA astronaut Scott Kelly thinks otherwise after spending some quality time with Microsoft’s HoloLens aboard the International Space Station during his recent 340-day mission. At a press conference yesterday, the astronaut said: “It worked great. I was really surprised. We messed around with it for, like, two hours, and immediately, I sensed — this is a capability we could use right now.”
Unlike virtual reality headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, Microsoft’s HoloLens overlays images onto the actual environment around you. It accomplishes this by projecting light directly onto the eyeball, literally augmenting your vision.
“It worked great,” he said today during a news briefing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas. “I was really surprised. We messed around with it for about two hours, and immediately I sensed this is a capability we could use right now.”
Microsoft and NASA sent the HoloLens devices up to the ISS to see if it would work as part of Project Sidekick to assist astronauts:
“For example, ground controllers could monitor Kelly’s HoloLens view during a maintenance procedure. “I could say, ‘Hey, is this the bolt or connector you’re talking about?’ And the person [at Mission Control] could just write an arrow in your field of view,” Kelly said.”
It wasn’t all work, however. Kelly got to play RoboRaid, one of Microsoft’s HoloLens games:
“”It has alien spaceships coming inside the space station, and there’s these aliens attacking you,” Kelly said of the game. “You’ve got to shoot them with your finger. … It was kinda fun.”
— ISS Research (@ISS_Research) March 4, 2016
As Kelly explained, that meant that a “person on the ground could be drawing things in your field of view, and pointing to things, and I could be doing the same thing.” For instance, he added, “I could say, ‘Hey, is this the bolt or connector you’re talking about?’ And [Mission Control] can just write an arrow in your field of view.” Another feature Kelly found useful was the ability to keep track of tasks with a list off to the side of his vision.
Since it’s so difficult to control your body and keep objects from flying around in the micro-gravity of space, it isn’t hard to imagine how something that makes information easily available could be useful aboard the space station.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Kelly and his fellow crew members didn’t play any games with the HoloLens. He tried a game — probably RoboRaid — where you have to fight off incoming swarms of invading aliens by shooting them with your finger. We saw the game at E3, but it’s probably a bit more surreal when you’re actually in space. Kelly said, with a grin, that it was “kinda fun.” The best part, though? This footage (above) of him and fellow astronauts playing the HoloLens game while floating in space. The future is here.