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Astronaut Scott Kelly Describes Using HoloLens in Space

Microsoft's HoloLens virtual reality glasses have come down to earth -- literally. Making his first public appearance since spending nearly a year in space, Captain Scott Kelly today described his use of HoloLens with his NASA colleagues, representing one of several select pilot users of the company's Windows 10-based wearable computing device that renders 3D holograms.

The astronaut's endorsement of HoloLens on stage with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the company's inaugural Envision conference in New Orleans came just days after the company made the devices and associated SDKs and APIs available for purchase by qualified software developers, as promised just over a month ago. In addition to announcing the release of the HoloLens Development Edition at last week's Build Conference in San Francisco, Microsoft also said it would be supported in the forthcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Edition, slated for release this summer.

Nadella is an avid proponent of holographic computing, which creates 3D virtual reality type experiences. The company believes HoloLens has the potential to enhance how people work, learn, communicate and play. Nadella emphasized that point to developers at Build last week and reiterated it today in the opening session of Envision, the company's inaugural event to gather business leaders tasked with digital transformation.

"This notion of this new medium of mixed reality that comes to life with HoloLens is reshaping architecture, industrial design and many other fields of operations," Nadella said in his Envision keynote today, following a demonstration of how Ecolab is using it as part of a digital transformation effort to address the shortage of water throughout the world.

Microsoft and NASA last year revealed their plans to test HoloLens for a project called Sidekick, aimed at enabling toe ground crew to provide visual assistance to the astronauts, who had two pairs of the wearable devices in the space station. Using Microsoft's Skype for Business, NASA's ground crew were able to troubleshoot and fix problems in the International Space Station with the benefit of using holographic output.

On stage at Envision, Kelly admitted that when he first saw HoloLens prior to embarking on his historic 340-day space mission he was captivated with the concept but skeptical it would be useful. "Before I flew in space on this mission, I went to Seattle and looked at the HoloLens and was very, very impressed. But I was also a little doubtful we would be able to make this technology work on the space station," Kelly said. "Usually when you're doing anything, there are startup transients and we have a WiFi network up there that isn't always working top notch. But when we turned it on, I was pretty amazed at how seamlessly it worked with their system on board the space station and was very impressed what will in the future be its ability to help us do our work."

At Build last week, Microsoft outlined how a number of early testers have spent the past year running pilot programs that make use of HoloLens ranging from automaker Volvo, Japan Airlines, computer-aided design software supplier Autodesk and a group of researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic.

Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic, which have teamed together to build a new medical school, revealed at last year's Build their intent to test HoloLens. Subsequently at last week's Build event, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Dean Pamela Davis said the new medical school plans to use HoloLens as part of the curriculum. In her presentation at Build, Davis and two members of her team described how HoloLens will help students get a better understanding of the digestive and nervous systems and how to diagnose a brain tumor.

"Being untethered and able to walk around 3D holographic content gives our students a real advantage," Davis said. "Students have commented that a 15-minute session with HoloLens could have saved them dozens of hours in the cadaveric lab. When we have only four short years to train them, this is invaluable."

Now that HoloLens is in the hands of a broader developer community, it should provide an even better picture of how commercially viable these devices might become.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/04/2016 at 1:01 PM


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