NASA To Use Augmented Reality Headsets for Real-Time Instructions Sent From Ground Control

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Virtual and augmented reality devices have slowly edged their way into our lives, popping up on headsets and in cars. Now, they are boldly going where no AR or VR has gone before, into space.

This week a resupply mission will carry two Microsoft HoloLenses to the International Space Station (ISS). The devices will be used by astronauts like real-time instruction manuals, part of a NASA project called Project Sidekick. The idea is to facilitate closer communication between astronauts in space and ground control.

A technician in Houston could see what an astronaut wearing the HoloLens is seeing in real time. The person in ground control could then draw a circle around a particular piece of hardware or button on the space station, pointing it out to the astronaut and making instructions for repairs or experiments even more clear than relying on written or vocal instructions.

“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,” Sam Scimemi, director of the ISS program said in a statement. “This new technology could also empower future explorers requiring greater autonomy on the journey to Mars.”

To make sure the devices would work in a low-gravity environment, the headsets were tested on NASA’s Weightless Wonder, a jet that allows people to experience brief moments of weightlessness while the plane is diving towards the ground. You can watch these tests in the short video below. It’s essentially watching highly educated engineers float around weightless making strange movements in the air with their fingers, set to dramatic music

Even though this is augmented reality, and not virtual reality, we all know that it’s only a matter of time before astronauts start getting trapped in crazy holodeck adventures. You have to admit, it might make time in the cramped quarters of the ISS fly by.

This article is shared as part of our “The Invisible Hand: Hidden Forces of Technology” series. In 2016, Social Media Week’s global theme will explore the intangible, under-valued processes driving our technology, and ultimately, our decisions, forward. As we become more efficient, dynamic, and diverse human-beings, we have the responsibility to understand the present and future potential of these hidden forces all around us.

Social Media Week

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This is Why Nokia is Betting Big on Virtual Reality

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In July, Finnish telecoms firm Nokia released a virtual reality camera called OZO in what was its first hardware release since it sold its devices business to Microsoft for $ 7.5 billion last year.

The launch of OZO came as a surprise to many but it marks Nokia’s slow first steps back into the consumer space in which it hopes to spark a “consumer revolution”.

“If you think about Nokia today, we really have this desire to incubate new growth markets for the company,” Guido Jouret, chief technology officer at Nokia Technologies, told CNBC in an interview at the Slush technology conference in Helsinki, Finland.

“Nokia has deep deep expertise in optics, sensors and audio. And when you put all those things together, you say, what new methods do we think are going to revolutionize media and entertainment? And we clearly believe that is virtual reality.”

OZO is a ball-shaped device with eight cameras in it. Jouret explained that it is the size of a human head with each camera spaced out at the same distance as two eyes in order to create a realistic perspective when a person watches the finished product.

Consumer version of VR camera?

The price for OZO has not been released and this version is likely to be for the professional market – from Hollywood film makers to broadcasters – as Nokia hopes to spur companies to produce more content for consumers. And eventually Nokia says this could be extended into the prosumer market.
“Clearly we believe that with the current offering, it’s clearly to see the market get the content production pipelines going, make it easier for consumers to find content. But the content will be consumed by consumers. The logical progression would be to take this technology to the prosumer type market and consumer,” Jouret said.

“We are not going to stop with one camera. So clearly technology will move on.”

The CTO envisioned that OZO would follow the progression of the SLR camera which went from professional-grade device to consumer “point and shoot”. Currently, virtual reality is difficult to create and could take a long time as different images need to be stitched together to create the effect. OZO claims to do this for the film maker with its eight cameras. It also allows real-time virtual reality streaming, which could be used for sports events, Jouret said.

But Nokia is not going to get into the business of virtual reality headsets. Film created with OZO is compatible with existing viewers such as the Facebook-owned Oculus rift. Hardware is a tough game right now and OZO’s release is a bid for Nokia to diversify away from its core business of network technology back into hardware. But unlike the smartphone business which has seen margins squeezed, Jouret said the fact that virtual reality is just in its infancy means that there will be “healthy margins” in it for Nokia.

Return to smartphones?

Despite Nokia dipping its toe back into the consumer market with virtual reality, Jouret said that it is not ready to come back to the phone business. The Finnish company is not allowed to make smartphones until the end of 2016 under the terms of the sale of its devices business to Microsoft.
And if Nokia did get back into the handset market, it would only do so under a brand licensing deal where it would design the phone for another company to manufacture, Jouret explained. But in the future, Nokia’s push into virtual reality could see the firm play a part in the smartphone market again.

“These phones are increasingly the playback device of choice for virtual reality, clearly having a say in what goes onto these devices could be very useful. At this point we haven’t quite determined what that will be or what form that would take. And again that would be if we do a deal which we haven’t yet announced or decided on,” Jouret said.

“So at this point the only business we are ready to announce is our virtual reality business. Our mandate is to look and incubate additional businesses, we never said we would stop at just VR and we continue to explore other markets.”

This article is part of our “The Invisible Hand: Hidden Forces of Technology” series. In 2016, Social Media Week’s global theme will explore the intangible, under-valued processes driving our technology, and ultimately, our decisions, forward. As we become more efficient, dynamic, and diverse human-beings, we have the responsibility to understand the present and future potential of these hidden forces all around us.

Social Media Week

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