NASA uses HoloLens to begin Sidekick Project on the International Space Station

Michael Cottuli

When HoloLens was first announced, the first thing that many people – this writer included – thought of was how the advent of augmented reality was going to bring science fiction into the world of science fact. By making publicly available the sort of space-age technology that lets us turn our surroundings into our own virtual world, Microsoft is not only giving science fiction fans a dream come true, but also creating something that’s truly valuable, and capable of saving time and drastically risk of human error in delicate operations.

Case in point: Project Sidekick. In short, the project is an initiative between NASA and Microsoft that endeavors to send Hololens to the International Space Station. HoloLens has been in testing for the International Space Station for some time now, with trials occurring in the NEEMO underwater habitat since July of 2015, on account of its similarities to a space station (air locked doors, isolated environment, etc.). After a setback in June where two HoloLens models were destroyed in an unmanned flight to the International Space Station, HoloLens arrived safely at the station in December, and now Project Sidekick is ready to go.

Project Sidekick, more than anything, aims to make the lives of astronauts easier and safer by reducing the risk of human error when dealing with sensitive equipment. Sidekick offers astronauts in the International Space Station two new ways to ensure the quality of their work: Remote Expert Mode and Procedure mode. Remote Expert Mode is exactly what it sounds like – it connects an astronaut with an expert remotely. By using Skype, HoloLens connects an astronaut to a live, interactive feed of an expert who can help them with audio/visual queues, where until now that astronaut would need to rely on written instructions.  Procedure mode uses the distinct capabilities of the HoloLens to augment reality to create an intuitive interface for Astronauts working with sensitive equipment, creating a holographic overlay to make instructions crystal clear.

Microsoft’s work with NASA in the International Space Station proves that the HoloLens can be an incredibly useful tool that saves time and minimizes the chance of error with delicate procedure. With the success of Project Sidekick, the door is opened for several other companies to knock on Microsoft’s door to get their hands on this technology and further encourage its growth. Needless to say, the future looks bright for technology enthusiasts.