For over 20 years, there has been a continuous human presence in space. If that’s not science-fiction made real enough for you consider this: on October 8, a doctor was beamed to the International Space Station (ISS) as a hologram.
Now we are not talking Star Trek Emergency Medical Hologram level, but it is certainly something of a breakthrough. NASA flight surgeon Dr Josef Schmid, together with Fernando De La Pena Llaca from AEXA Aerospace and their teams, were "holoported" to orbit to chat with European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
The approach combined, a Microsoft Hololens Kinect camera and custom software from AEXA. The results were high-quality 3D models of the people transmitted inside the ISS in a conversation that happened live. They interacted with 3D models of each other almost like they were there for real.
The ability to holoport people to space and people from space to Earth opens the door to more realistic and interactive physical and psychological conferences between the crew onboard the ISS and the team at ground control, with potential for dealing with medical emergencies, private psychiatric sessions, family meetings and more.
“This is completely new manner of human communication across vast distances,” Dr Schmid said in a statement. “Furthermore, it is a brand-new way of human exploration, where our human entity is able to travel off the planet. 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.”
Holoportation has been developed by Microsoft over the last six years but this is the first time it has been used in space, making Dr Schmid and company the first people to be holoported off Earth. The next step for this technology is to combine it with augmented reality so that telementoring can become a reality. Technical expertise can be beamed up live to the astronauts to assist with experiments, for example.
“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,” Schmid added.
Holoportation could come in extremely handy with the future of long-haul travel for space missions further afield, like Mars, but it is not the only place that could benefit from this technology. From Antarctica to remote islands and mountains, this emerging technology could have so many intriguing applications. The age of holograms is here.