Story at a glance
- NASA successfully “holoported” a flight surgeon to the International Space Station last year.
- Holoportation is a type of technology that allows for 3D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed and transmitted live anywhere in real time.
- NASA hopes to use holoporation in its space missions and for other activities on Earth.
NASA says that a doctor was “holoported” to the International Space Station (ISS) last year, taking telemedicine to new heights.
Josef Schmid, NASA flight surgeon, was holoported from Earth into space in October last year using a Microsoft Hololens Kinect camera and a personal computer with custom software developed by AEXA Aerospace, an industry partner.
Holoportation is a type of capture technology that NASA says allows for high-quality 3D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed and transmitted live anywhere in real time. When it’s combined with Microsoft’s Hololens, it allows users to see, hear and interact with people remotely in 3D — as if they were actually present in the same space.
Schmid described the technology as a brand-new way of human exploration.
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“Our physical body is not there, but our human entity absolutely is there. It doesn’t matter that the space station is traveling 17,500 mph and in constant motion in orbit 250 miles above Earth, the astronaut can come back three minutes or three weeks later and with the system running, we will be there in that spot, live on the space station,” he said in a statement.
Holoportation has been in circulation since at least 2016 by Microsoft, but Schmid’s trip to the ISS was its first such use in an extreme and remote environment such as space.
NASA hopes Schmid’s successful holoportation will serve as a precursor for more extensive use on future missions. The space agency has plans to enable two-way communication, where people on Earth can be holoported to space and astronauts can be placed back on Earth.
“Imagine you can bring the best instructor or the actual designer of a particularly complex technology right beside you wherever you might be working on it. Furthermore, we will combine augmented reality with haptics. You can work on the device together, much like two of the best surgeons working during an operation. This would put everyone at rest knowing the best team is working together on a critical piece of hardware,” said Schmid.
NASA says there are also non-space related applications of holoportation on Earth, such as in Antarctica, offshore oil rigs or military operation theaters. The technology, it says, has the potential to “help people in such situations communicate, bringing people together no matter the distance or environmental challenges.”
NASA’s biggest challenge will be using holoportation in its missions to Mars, as there are currently communication delays of up to 20 minutes each way. That makes it difficult to communicate on the Red Planet, whether it’s through radio transmission, video streams or newer methods such as holoportation.
Mars is considered the most accessible place in the solar system, but it has an atmosphere and climate that’s known to be very diverse and complex. NASA hopes to take its learnings from sending humans to the moon and apply them in sending astronauts to Mars.
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