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Smart glasses for astronauts? NASA will start testing them this year

NASA and Osterhout Design Group (ODG) have entered into a partnership to create smart glasses to assist astronauts by using “augmented reality” to help them acclimate to a whole different world.

The partnership first tested virtual and augmented reality in flight, but now they are going to deploy the technology for use in terrestrial and space-based activities, according to a PC Magazine report.

ODG’s Smart Glasses work by projecting graphics on a tablet allowing astronauts a high-tech, hands-free experience while doing their work in outer space. Instructions projected onto such tablets will replace paper checklists, and it will allow for missions that last longer, according to Lauri Hansen, NASA engineering director, in a statement as reported by PC Magazine.

The technology helps to improve efficiency in space missions. It uses position sensors to maintain full awareness of what is going on, where the astronauts is looking, and how the astronaut is moving, according to the report.

ODG’s software isn’t new: it’s been used in other fields, such as medical and energy. NASA wants to use it to increase accuracy and efficiency during in-flight missions.

The company and NASA through this partnership will seek to “advance technology and today’s announcement is a vote of confidence in the power, promise, and possibility of headworn augmented reality technology,” according to the report.

By using these glasses, project information can be uploaded onto the lenses, making how-to guides readily available to astronauts who would otherwise be unavailable and entirely dependent on whatever they had brought with them. It also makes it easier on them as oftentimes their hands are full.

The NASA engineering teams that are working to integrate the software into the glasses will start testing them in an undersea lab that simulates space flight later this year, according to an SFGate report. They hope to have feedback by the fall from astronauts and crew.

Today, if something goes wrong while on a mission, they have to flip through index cards to troubleshoot, which is not only cumbersome but potentially mission-threatening in an emergency situation, and often they must call back to base.