The US space agency NASA has partnered with Microsoft in developing a wearable technology called Microsoft HoloLens that has been unveiled on Wednesday at Redmond by the tech giant but more than its use on Earth, it will be useful for scientists in Mars exploration.
The NASA software OnSight developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena is already designed to help researchers to conduct science operations on Mars along with the Curiosity rover.
OnSight will use real rover data and its tools by creating a 3-D simulation of the Martian environment where scientists around the world can meet, examine the rover’s worksite from a first-person perspective, plan new activities and preview the results of their work firsthand.
“We believe OnSight will enhance the ways in which we explore Mars and share that journey of exploration with the world,” said Jeff Norris, JPL’s OnSight project manager.
Until now, rover operations helped scientists to examine Mars imagery on a computer screen, and make inferences and even 3-D stereo views lack a natural sense of depth that human vision employs to understand spatial relationships.
To cover the gap, the OnSight system uses holographic computing to overlay visual information and rover data into the user’s field of view to create a hybrid of real and virtual.
To view this holographic realm, the Curiosity team will wear a Microsoft HoloLens device, which surrounds them with images from the rover on Mars. They then can stroll around the rocky surface or crouch down to examine rocky outcrops from different angles on Mars, in a more natural way.
“Previously, our Mars explorers have been stuck on one side of a computer screen. This tool gives them the ability to explore the rover’s surroundings much as an Earth geologist would do field work here on our planet,” said Norris.
The joint program to develop OnSight with Microsoft was part of an ongoing partnership to investigate advances in human-robot interaction, said NASA.
The JPL team responsible for OnSight specializes in systems to control robots and spacecraft and plans to begin testing OnSight in Curiosity mission operations later this year. Future applications may include Mars 2020 rover mission operations that is also scheduled to take seeds and plants to Mars and grow them in a greenhouse box.