In an attempt to push boundaries, NASA is embracing mixed reality technology, which will be used to train astronauts.
The space agency has partnered with Unreal Gaming, a game engine maker, to create a virtual International Space Station or an ISS simulator.
Mixed Reality Replica Of ISS
A video released by Unreal Engine shows off the mixed reality technology, offering a glimpse into how NASA is training its astronauts. Several instruments and elements of the ISS have been integrated inside the semi-virtual world, and astronauts are getting trained using the replica tools.
"NASA is always interested in how cutting edge technology could help in our programs. Creating a truly immersive experience for astronauts is a lot like creating a game. With Unreal Engine, we've created a completely immersive, three-dimensional, mixed reality training and development environment that is incredibly lifelike," says NASA software engineer Matthew Noyes.
The mixed reality environment also includes an "active response gravity offload system," which allows trainee astronauts to float. This lends a micro-gravitational feeling to the training.
What Is Mixed Reality?
Mixed reality aims to amalgamate the best features of augmented and virtual realities. This has led to the creation of a totally unique and new environment. People can then mold the environment into whatever they wish to be surrounded by. This process enables one to experience different realities seamlessly.
In such an environment, users can navigate through both real and virtual environments at the same time. Rather than completely working in a virtual environment, virtual objects are placed inside the real-time environment. Users can interact virtually with these objects, making things appear realistic.
How Does NASA Train Its Astronauts?
Trainee astronauts at NASA spend over two years undergoing excessively rigorous drills and intense classes. These processes prepare them for weightless and seamless navigation in zero-gravity situations. The trainee astronauts learn to move to and fro, as well as operate different parts of a space shuttle. They also learn to serve each other as medical and technical helpers.
Previously, NASA had a neutral buoyancy lab, which was a huge pool with a capacity of 6.2 million gallons of water. It also had a "space vehicle mock-up facility," which was a model of a space shuttle and contained bits and pieces of the ISS. These two were used to train budding astronauts, but had drawbacks that include limited capacity.
The mixed reality replica of the ISS is poised to usher in a new era for NASA. The mixed reality simulator allows several people to be a part of the same augmented reality, at the same time.
Interestingly, Unreal Engine's arch rival Unity has also collaborated with NASA. Both have adapted themselves to suit the requirements of the virtual reality segment. Unity is the more popular choice among developers, but Unreal Gaming has brands like BMW, Ikea, Lockheed Martin, and McLaren in its kitty.
It will be interesting to see how NASA adopts the new technology to train its astronauts. It remains to be seen how effective the mixed replica of the ISS will be for the space agency.
Check out the video below which shows the mixed reality replica of the ISS.