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HoloLens Reaches For Outer Space

As other technology companies try to bring science fiction to tech reality, Microsoft goes the other way, by bringing its HoloLens device to NASA

“Project Sidekick” aims to put the HoloLens augmented reality goggles on board the space program’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet. The face gear, combined with the Microsoft’s Skype chat tool, would act as a sort of two-way communicator allowing crews collaborate and run tests, make repairs and ensure other system integrity. If everything works the way it should, the device could wind up landing at its ultimate destination, on board the space station.

See also: Microsoft Missed Mobile, So Now It Wants To Own VR

Apart from being an incredibly cool scenario for its augmented reality face gear, the move also highlights Microsoft’s deep interest in supporting companies and other organizations. That should surprise no one, considering the so-called enterprise is one of the few, but crucial areas of success for the company and its Windows platform (though that hold may be more tenuous than it seems).

If the Windows maker wants to amp up the sex appeal for what can be a rather drab, operational affair—such as remote management or training—then mission accomplished with this NASA project.

Launching Microsoft’s Wearable

And we thought Microsoft HoloLens’ Minecraft demo was impressive…

Sidekick hinges on two primary functions, according to NASA’s website:

The first is “Remote Expert Mode,” which uses Skype, part of Microsoft, to allow a ground operator to see what a crew member sees, provide real-time guidance, and draw annotations into the crew member’s environment to coach him or her through a task…

The second mode is “Procedure Mode,” which augments standalone procedures with animated holographic illustrations displayed on top of the objects with which the crew is interacting.

The latter could reduce the amount of advance training crews have to undergo, bringing down costs, while ensuring they have critical data in the moments they need it. The other benefit: If they save the data locally and take it into space, it would give astronauts additional expertise on demand, even on missions “deep into our solar system, where communication delays complicate difficult operations.”

On July 21, a team of astronauts and engineers will embark for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 20 expedition, and Sidekick will be along for the ride. For two weeks, the group will live in the Aquarius undersea research station, which acts as a simulated space exploration environment.

If It’s Good Enough For NASA, It’s Great For Your IT Department

According to NASA, Sidekick is just one facet of a larger effort by the two partners “to explore applications of holographic computing in space exploration.” A few months ago, Microsoft and NASA revealed they were working on new software called OnSight, which would allow HoloLens-equipped scientists work virtually on Mars.

Windows Holographic HoloLens Mars demo

Sidekick may be pretty stunning, as far as passion projects go, but it also sheds some light on how Microsoft sees “holographic computing” in general, and its HoloLens technology specifically, fitting into larger, systemic operations. Their impact, on efforts like training scenarios and remote communications, have big implications for a wide range of industries.

See also: Moverio BT-2000 Shows Epson Isn’t Giving Up On Smart Eyewear

Of course, Microsoft is not the only company orienting its wearable face device at enterprise applications. Others, including Epson and Vuzix, have been courting organizations, with glasses that could offer similar features for professionals in industries as diverse as medical, manufacturing and automotive. 

It’s also worth noting that the original Google Glass, as flawed as it was, garnered quite a bit of attention from companies eager to make use of the connected eyewear. The upcoming reboot of Google’s device will likely generate the same level of interest.

See also: Google Glass Is Edging Toward A Reimagining—And A Relaunch

But could it possibly be as cool as connecting humanity’s star-ward gaze in the vast reaches of space? For once, it seems like Microsoft may have figuratively and literally “out-moonshot” Google.

Microsoft apparently has been busy lately, trying to tell the world’s stories and laying out a new company mission statement, but it still enough time to drop this not-so-subtle hint: If HoloLens is good enough for NASA, then it’s probably good enough for your earthbound IT department. 

Photo by Daniel Scully; others courtesy of Microsoft

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