Smartglasses like Google Glass have a reputation for looking weird, geeky, or worse. A sure-fire way to improve street-cred is to have someone cool wear them – and they don’t come much cooler than a team of NASA astronauts. The space agency has teamed up with Osterhout Design Group to explore the possibility of using its AR specs on missions to meteors, and to Mars in the future.
In an interview with San Francisco Business Times, NASA’s new business lead Sean Carter said ODG’s glasses were chosen after a year long evaluation period, during which time other devices were considered. Among them was Google Glass, but it was back when Google was concentrating its efforts on winning consumers hearts, rather than exploring any business applications, and the talks went no further.
What makes ODG’s glasses good enough for astronauts? The company has considerable experience building smart optics for government and industrial use, and the glasses are described as doing everything a tablet is capable of, while giving the wearer hands-free control. Sensors include accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and an altimeter, and the wearable runs a custom version of Android Jelly Bean.
The idea is for astronauts to use the glasses as an augmented reality tool, so the display – seen on a pair of 720p stereoscopic lenses – will show check lists, instruction manuals, video calls, and digital markers identifying parts and controls. Carter told the Business Times, “Just put the glasses on and say ‘Next step,’ and you’re looking through an instruction manual. It’s beautiful, they are amazing.”
NASA currently has five pairs of ODG’s glasses and is preparing to put them to the test in its deep water space simulation environment. Should the glasses pass, they’ll go into use before the end of the year, in preparation for those exciting missions. ODG has previously concentrated on making smart glasses for business, but it has announced a consumer version for release this year, and having an endorsement from NASA will certainly help overcome some of the social stigma that comes with wearing smart specs.