Since Microsoft's newly-announced HoloLens sounds like something inspired by Star Trek, it seems only right that NASA should take the virtual reality glasses for a spin. According to NASA, the space agency has partnered with Microsoft to turn these "holographic" virtual reality goggles into a tool for exploring Mars without leaving the office.
NASA's OnSight software (which was specially developed with HoloLens in mind) will use real data from the Curiosity rover to create 3-D simulations of Mars. The plan is for program scientists to work within this virtual Mars environment, collaborating together from around the world.
Hopefully working in an augmented reality environment will help scientists study the red planet in a more fluid way. On Mashable, Lance Ulanoff describes his experience with an OnSight demo. While walking around on "Mars" is obviously fun, the real purpose of the software became clear when he used it in tandem with a physical computer:
On the computer screen, I saw black and white Mars landscape imagery. It was poorly stitched together and offered no context. When I used the mouse to select a rock on screen, its counterpart in the 3D-rendered landscape was also selected and a little flag appeared above it. The tech instructed me to use the mouse to drag my cursor off the physical screen and select something directly in the 3D environment. It sounded like a silly idea: how could the mouse go off screen? Augmented reality makes it possible. I did as I was told and moved the mouse from one digital environment to another somewhat more unchartered territory and then I selected a rock. It was amazing.
In a demo with writers from WIRED, OnSight project scientist Jeff Norris demonstrated some of the theoretical commands that a virtual martian could give to a rover on Mars. Collecting and analyzing a sample could be as easy as pointing to it and gesturing.
"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," Norris said in a statement.
The Curiosity mission may have OnSight on hand later this year.