Augmented reality soon on-board space stations?

April 27, 2017 // By Julien Happich
An international project led by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland developed a new augmented reality (AR) tool for the European Space Agency (ESA). In the future, it is envisaged that astronauts will be able to use this tool to perform maintenance tasks and real-time equipment monitoring in the demanding conditions of space.

The two-year EdcAR project (Engineering data in cross platform AR) led by VTT developed a solution to the challenges involved in maintenance and the provision of work instructions, which have been an issue for more than a decade. Since maintenance and other work tasks in space are critical, they must be carried out without errors and at the right time. Preparing for these requires in-depth practising, which involves coordinating the activities of various experts. Since astronauts’ time is extremely valuable, their tasks and maintenance instructions must be unambiguous.

An augmented reality demonstration underway in
the ISS’s Columbus research laboratory.
(photographer: Domenico Tedone, Thales-Alenia Space, Italy)

The system is expected to reduce mistakes, speed up the tasks and improve the clarity of the instruction by the use of AR technology. The major benefit is the real-time location of the point requiring maintenance. This information is transmitted to the astronaut's AR glasses explicitly and at the right time by using text, graphics, video, sound etc. The system displays detailed visual instructions on the astronauts' AR glasses, guiding them step by step to perform the necessary procedures in the right order, such as “now press this button”, “then turn the lever (B)”.