‘OK glass, open the fridge,’ our cameraman Filip Koubek is standing in the kitchen area of our approximately 25 square metre living/working room with a pair of plastic shades on his nose, messing around. It was a couple of days ago when we first tested Google’s hottest innovation – the wearable Google Glass gadget – and the ‘OK, glass’ phrase, used for command confirmation, really stuck with us.
Our crew’s commander and a Florida-Institute-of-Technology-based extreme environments architect Ondrej Doule brought a Google Glass set for an ergonomics study that would try to assess its usability when integrated into a space suit helmet. Though augmented reality devices, developed for military purposes, are already entering the mainstream commercial market, no one has tested them in space yet.
“I believe that in the not so distant future some sort of head-up or head-down displays, or even a projection of information on some suitable surface inside the helmet will become indispensable for astronauts,” Ondrej says. “However, due to extreme safety and material requirements, space flight is usually about five years behind in adopting commercial innovations.”
According to available information, no one has tested Google Glass in space yet and no one has tested them in a space-analog environment either, making us possibly the first team to do so.
By chance, it ended up being me, who had the first opportunity to try the Google Glass on and test its compass function during one of our spacewalks.
“The purpose of this experiment was to test a head-mounted display, or a head-up display for purposes of gaining more information inside a space-suit, basically to improve efficiency of an astronaut, to improve safety, to improve communication and so on,” said Ondrej.
We have encountered several problems early on. Although my head is rather small compared to some of the guys who are in the crew with me, I struggled to put the space suit helmet on without shifting the Google Glass on my nose.
The space suit helmet is like a big glass bubble covering your whole head – once you are inside you can’t touch your face to adjust anything – being it your hair falling over your eyes or the slipping glasses. Once you are geared up and in the air-lock, you simply have to move over any discomfort and continue with the mission to accomplish your goal. And so I tried.
The glass was programmed to activate when you tilt your head 30 degrees upwards. First I thought I couldn’t activate it because of the helmet restricting my movement. I was feeling pretty frustrated. Eventually, I tried to close one eye to see whether I might actually see anything on the display – and here it was. As the glass shifted slightly when I was putting my helmet on, the focus changed and I wasn’t able to see anything with my both eyes. When I closed my left eye, I suddenly saw the information clearly in the right upper corner of my field of view. The compass was really comfortable to use, with a thin white vertical line pointing to one spot on a carousel between north, south, east and west, showing the direction where I was just heading.
During the whole duration of the experiment, a wide angle camera was mounted from the outside of my helmet facing my face and capturing every movement of my head to see how difficult it was to use the Google Glass. Another camera was attached to my chest to determine the position of my body.
“I think the experiment went really well,” said Ondrej. “Google glass worked well and we collected a lot of data. We learned that this touchless feature of activating the Google Glass is really important inside the helmet where you cannot touch your head or activate anything with your hand.”
Watch our video below: