NASA, Microsoft Working On Virtual Reality Platform To Explore Mars


NASA and Microsoft have partnered up to develop a virtual reality platform called OnSight. The new VR system is one of the exciting projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The basic idea is to use the Mars Curiosity rover as a telepresence robot that beams back detailed data on its surroundings for the scientists working on Earth.

The new VR system uses Microsoft’s just-announced HoloLens headset as well as Windows Holographic technology, and is reputed to be a major advance in realism for virtual reality technology. The HoloLens headset works by tricking your brain in to believing light is solid matter. It does so by creating a holographic projection directly in front of you that you can “see” and interact with.

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More on NASA’s HoloLens VR system

The HoloLens VR system makes it possible to transmit data from Curiosity that the OnSight software uses to build a 3D simulation of what it is seeing/hearing/touching on Mars. Scientists can then interact first-hand with the projected virtual environments. This means researchers can examine what Curiosity is working on from a first-person perspective. That makes it easier to plan future activities for the rover to complete, as well as making it possible to develop more accurate ad useful simulations.

Furthermore, the HoloLens doesn’t just provide a 3-D recreation of the Martian landscape. The system is also designed to overlay the images with distances, readings and other sensor data and supplemental knowledge to help the researchers experience the viewpoint of the rover so that they can work directly within the simulation, and not have to emerge from the simulation to confirm data or the like.

OnSight is one of JPL’s research projects involving robot-controlled spacecraft and exploration equipment, which are designed for robot missions to Mars before we send humans to the Red Planet for a manned mission. OnSight operations with the Martian rover Curiosity are scheduled to begin in the second half of the year, and HoloLens and other VR innovations are likely to be a part of Mars 2020 rover missions, NASA says.