NASA Showcases Virtual Reality for Space

NEW YORK—Visitors from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) walked on Mars, explored a 3D prototype, and even dangled a rover over the audience’s head during an augmented reality demo and talk at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering MakerSpace event space in Brooklyn.

Matthew Clausen, creative director of JPL’s Ops Lab, joined Marijke Jorritsma, an NYU graduate student and intern at JPL, to demonstrate the research and exploration capabilities of the Microsoft HoloLens, a headset that can project virtual images—from the surface of Mars to a repair schematic—over the real world.

The two presenters wore HoloLens headsets to present the work, and the virtual viewpoint was projected on a screen behind them so the audience members could follow along.

They first presented OnSight, a virtual reconstruction of the Martian surface that researchers can work in collaboratively—for instance, to set a course and targets for the Curiosity Mars rover.

have plotted Martian locations based on long, flat panoramas of the surface taken by rovers. Clausen’s group found that researchers were two times more accurate at determining distances and three times more accurate at determining angles between specific Martian locations when they could look around from within the Martian scene.

And the researchers—many of them geologists who are used to working outside, in the field—found the tool very natural to use, as well.

“One of the interesting things that happened when scientists first used this is that they realized they could run up a hill to get spatial awareness of the scene,” Jorritsma said. “So they immediately were able to start using it and thinking about it in a spatial way, as soon as they put on the devices.”

“That was kind of our first clue that things were going in the right direction,” Clausen added.

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