University of North Texas students develop AR program for communication in space

Three University of North Texas students have developed an augmented reality (AR) program that could change the way astronauts communicate in space.

David Woodward, Tim Stern and Juan Ruiz took part in the NASA Spacesuit User Interface Technologies (SUITS) Design Challenge, which tasked students with developing a system to provide real-time visual communication via an astronaut’s helmet visor.

Explaining the problem to be solved, Stern said: “Currently during a spacewalk, astronauts communicate with mission control via radio transmission. Voice communication is delayed and can sometimes be disrupted as it travels between Earth and the astronaut.”

“What we have done, using our AR goggles, is develop a system through which astronauts receive real time visual information. This information can be anything from the astronaut’s suit status, biometrics, checklists, detailed instructions and even pictures.”

University of North Texas students develop AR program for communication in space
Transparent windows would overlay images of the real world when viewed by astronauts

The students used AR rather than virtual reality because they wanted astronauts to be able to command a view of the outside. Their program produces data that will be semi-transparent and overlay the user’s actual view.

Stern added: “We didn’t really have any experience with AR. We heard about the NASA SUITS Challenge and thought it would be a cool project. We used our engineering experience and trained ourselves to do the programming for the AR goggles. Imagine our surprise when we were one of 16 teams to be selected to go the Johnson Space Center along with teams from Virginia Tech and Harvard.”

The University of North Texas College of Engineering team have travelled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston this week to compete in the NASA SUITS Design Challenge. They will present their AR programming to computer scientists, engineers and astronauts.

During the competition, the program will be tested by a NASA astronaut on the space agency’s mockup of the International Space Station. The University of North Texas will face off against student teams from several universities.

Image credits: University of North Texas