On board the International Space Station last year in October, astronaut Thomas Pesquet interacted with NASA flight surgeon Dr. Joseph Schmidt. What was special about this interaction was that Schmidt’s hologram was projected onto the ISS while comfortably seated on Earth. NASA announced this in a press release earlier this month.
NASA dubbed this technique holoportation as an amalgamation of the words hologram & teleportation, taking us a step beyond the 2D interactions that we are used to by now. With this technique, high-quality 3D images are captured, compressed & transmitted in real time, and then displayed on a mixed reality display.
How did NASA do this?
To accomplish this feat, NASA worked with AEXA Aerospace, a Houston-based company that provides custom software for virtual & mixed reality applications. Using Microsoft’s HoloLens, a mixed reality display device, a HoloLens Kinect camera & custom AEXA software, NASA was able to create an interaction between the 2 parties where they could see, hear & interact in 3D as though they were in the same room.
“It doesn’t matter that the space station is traveling at 17,500 miles per hour and is constantly moving in an orbit 250 miles above Earth,” Schmid said about interaction in press release. “The astronaut can come back 3 minutes or 3 weeks later and if the system works, we’ll be at that location live on the space station.
If this is the present, what is the future?
This demonstration of 2 way communications is the precursor of a more extensive application of technology in future NASA missions in which astronauts can not only request medical services, but also welcome VIP visitors in the ISS, who are being beamed-up from Earth.
As humanity explores new horizons for its manned space missions, these new forms of communication will help astronauts stay connected with mission control, medical teams will be on a personal level with family & friends.
However, the hurdle of communication delays still has to be cleared. As the press release notes, there is a 20-minute communications delay for all modes of communications between Earth & planet Mars that has yet to be overcome in order to achieve smooth communications.
Back on Earth, the technology can be used to reach extreme environments like research centers in Antarctica or offshore oil rigs, and even remote expertise can be made available at short notice without need for transportation.
Teleportation can wait while holoportation does the work for now.