Pairing an Oculus Rift headset with the latest version of Microsoft’s motion-sensing Kinect camera is the virtual reality-driven dream of every gamer, but NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has some more practical applications in mind. Specifically, the headset and the camera have been paired to work in tandem as a control interface for a robotic arm. All of this happened in a testing lab, but it’s the first step toward creating a reliable remote control framework for robots operating in environments that are hostile to unprotected humans, like outer space.
The experiment was a success, with the enhancements of the second-gen Kinect offering a greater degree of articulation and precision for the user while an Oculus Rift provided a first-person, head-tracked perspective. It might seem unusual to see a government agency known for investing in multi-billion dollar research and exploration projects to use consumer components whose combined cost falls well below $1,000, but NASA thinkers see potential in this outside-the-box approach.
“We’re building partnerships with commercial companies that make devices that maybe first and foremost weren’t built for space exploration,” Human Interfaces Engineer Victor Luo tells Engadget. “Doing so helps us get a whole lot more done for space exploration than if we were starting everything from scratch. It also means we could build systems that could be available to the general public. Imagine how inspirational it would be for a 7-year-old to control a space robot with the tools he’s already familiar with!”
Follow the link above to read more from the folks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and be sure to check out the video below for a closer look at the robot arm experiment.