Microsoft lends a hand to NASA in Mars exploration

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NASA has joined forces with Microsoft to enable its scientists explore Mars by creating a holographic view of the Martian surface utilising a new software dubbed OnSight and HoloLens device.

Using the new technology, scientists will be able to virtually explore and work on Mars using wearable technology called Microsoft HoloLens. The information and data from NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover is used to generate a holographic overlay in user’s field of view.

Holographic computing blends a view of the physical world with computer-generated imagery to create a hybrid of real and virtual.

OnSight would use real rover data and extend the Curiosity mission’s existing planning tools by creating a 3-D simulation of the Martian environment where scientists around the world can meet. Program scientists would be able to examine the rover’s worksite from a first-person perspective, plan new activities and preview the results of their work firsthand.

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The images sent across by rover operations have given a deep understanding of Mar’s surface and its environment, but scientists are still needed to study the imagery on a computer that lack 3D dept and do not give them a full picture. Even when scientists are presented with 3-D stereo views from Curiosity, they lack a natural sense of depth that human vision employs to understand spatial relationships.

To view this holographic realm, members of the Curiosity mission team don a Microsoft HoloLens device, which surrounds them with images from the rover’s Martian field site. They then can stroll around the rocky surface or crouch down to examine rocky outcrops from different angles. The tool provides access to scientists and engineers looking to interact with Mars in a more natural, human way.

The OnSight tool also would be useful for planning rover operations. For example, scientists can program activities for many of the rover’s science instruments by looking at a target and using gestures to select menu commands.

JPL plans to begin testing OnSight in Curiosity mission operations later in 2015. Future applications may include Mars 2020 rover mission operations, and other applications in support of NASA’s journey to Mars.