Microsoft HoloLens Could Aid Space Station Maintenance and Repairs

May 01, 2017

A Finnish research organization says it has come up with another way to put Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset to use on the International Space Station (ISS).

If it works as advertised, the new augmented reality (AR) system will let ISS staffers "see" telemetry and other data that would otherwise be invisible to them. That in turn, frees them up to perform manual maintenance and diagnostic tasks, according to the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, which led the project for the European Space Agency.

This is not the first time HoloLens has been considered for work in space: NASA has been working with the technology as well.

AR technology mixes virtual elements with real-world surroundings. Many consumers experienced AR by playing Pokemon Go last year. But the technology is also touted by tech companies including Salesforce (crm), IBM (ibm), and Microsoft (msft) for use by businesses for repair, maintenance, and training.

Many maintenance tasks—on earth or in space—are slowed down because technicians have to continually refer to printed or online data for instructions. AR technology—which superimposes data in graphics, text, or video form into the field of vision (and audio into their earpiece)—means they can focus on what's in front of them without having to look away. This also leaves their hands free for the task at hand.

Related: Microsoft HoloLens Goes Global

Per the VTT statement, the system "displays detailed visual instructions on the astronauts' AR glasses, guiding them step by step to perform the necessary procedures in the right order, such as 'now press this button, then turn the lever (B)." The biggest perk is the technicians now are shown exactly where the problem is and then what to do about it.

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VTT says the system, produced with partners including Thales Alenia Space, has been tested at the ESA's European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. It is unclear if and when it will be deployed in space.

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