Augmented reality (AR) is an emerging technology that enhances, or augments, a user’s perception of the real world. The enhancement can be delivered through sight, sound, or touch and provides additional information about a person’s environment.
Beyond consumer and entertainment applications, AR is highly useful for improving efficiency, safety, and productivity in the workplace by providing a user with important information (i.e. sensor data, inventory information, heat mapping) that is not naturally perceivable from the environment. Many industries including construction, medical, manufacturing, and defense sectors have begun to invest and develop AR technologies that enhance a user’s ability to complete a task. Recent partnerships between HTC Vive and AECOM, developments by the US military, and projects supported by Medtronic illustrate how AR heads-up displays offer a powerful method for conveying information needed to plan a construction site, learn a medical procedure, or successfully execute a military training exercise.
In addition to these on-Earth settings, AR has similar applications for improving operational tasks during space exploration. Astronauts stationed on the International Space Station (ISS) have already experimented using Microsoft’s Hololens to complete tasks.
Feedback from astronauts that tested the Hololens and NASA’s roadmap plans indicate that AR could be used to (1) superimpose instructions or illustrations that guide an astronaut through maintenance repairs, and (2) enable remote visibility between an astronaut and ground operator to solve an issue together in real-time. The Hololens is also being used to plan the next Mars mission. Additional projects such as AMARIS and open calls for AR solutions highlight NASA’s interest in developing AR technologies and AR’s growing ability to support unique conditions in aeronautic and space missions.