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NASA Uses Kinect 2, Oculus Rift VR Helm to Control Space Robots

Modern gaming technologies are not only easy to use, but they are getting more and more advanced and considerably more precise than they used to be just several years ago. Therefore, it is not surprising that NASA engineers are experimenting with Microsoft Corp.’s Kinect 2 and Oculus Rift VR helmet in a bid to create ultimate controlling devices for space robots.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been researching natural ways to control robots in space for some time now and has even built partnerships with commercial companies that work on innovative controlling technologies (e.g., Microsoft, Leap Motion, etc.). While it is hard to imagine that Kinect 2 or Oculus Rift will ever fly into space as integral parts of actual equipment used in missions, eventually NASA’s JPL could develop manipulating devices for space exploration, based on the sort of technology that now powers consumer gaming appliances..

At present, NASA uses a setup that includes a Microsoft Kinect 2 and an Oculus Rift VR helm to control an off-the-shelf robotic arm. According to an interview conducted by Engadget web-site, the combination of Kinect 2 and Oculus Rift VR “has resulted in the most immersive interface” that NASA JPL has built to date. Moreover, thanks to considerably enhanced precision of Kinect 2 (compared to the first-generation Kinect), manipulating the robotic arm is not only easy, it is actually useful and accurate enough. Virtual reality helm helps to visualize the process in a better way than standard 2D displays.

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“We’re able for the first time, with [a] consumer-grade sensor, [to] control the entire orientation rotation of a robotic limb. Plus we’re able to really immerse someone in the environment so that it feels like an extension of your own body – you’re able to look at the scene from a human-like perspective with full stereo vision. All the visual input is properly mapped to where your limbs are in the real world. […] It feels very natural and immersive. I felt like you have a much better awareness of where objects are in the world,” said Alex Menzies, a human interfaces engineer at NASA JPL.

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Actual devices to control space robots will need to be considerably more reliable than any CE gadgets, moreover, they should take into account things that may not be important for gaming or other types of usage on Earth (e.g., latency, strength, gravitation, etc.). However, consumer electronics products can be used to experience technologies and determine their pros and cons as well as to create tasks to developers of actual space exploration machines.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqNC72fgetc’]

KitGuru Says: Looks like video games now can not only make one a professional virtual driver or shooter, but also a virtual spaceman.

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