NASA astronauts to have a new Sidekick aboard the ISS with HoloLens

26 Jun 2015

NASA engineers testing their Sidekick project with the HoloLens in zero gravity. Image via NASA

NASA sees its astronauts as being heavily integrated into an augmented reality (AR) future with the news that astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are to work with Microsoft’s HoloLens headset as part of a new project.

AR headsets are seen as the likely evolution of the workplace, particularly hands-on work, where people will be able to monitor their environment much more accurately than ever before and, for ISS astronauts, the technology is ideal.

According to NASA, this has seen it recruit Microsoft’s HoloLens to produce a new project called Sidekick, which it says could reduce crew training requirements and increase the efficiency at which astronauts can work in space.

The space agency envisions Sidekick as having two modes aboard the ISS, the first being ‘Remote Expert Mode’, which will allow NASA engineers on the ground see what the astronaut sees and advise them on what to do next.

It will also allow fellow astronauts aboard the craft to guide their colleague with drawn annotations in their visor, which until now has largely been done through handwritten notes.

The second will be ‘Procedure Mode’, which augments standalone procedures with animated holographic illustrations displayed on top of the objects with which the crew is interacting.

The HoloLens has already begun testing to see its capability of handling zero-gravity aboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet to ensure it functions as expected in free-fall in advance of its delivery to the microgravity environment of the space station.

“HoloLens and other virtual and mixed reality devices are cutting-edge technologies that could help drive future exploration and provide new capabilities to the men and women conducting critical science on the International Space Station,” said Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic