VR gamers have been watching Finnish VR headset manufacturer Varjo for a while now. While the headset’s “human-eye resolution” capabilities are definitely exciting, the daunting price tag has largely relegated the headset to the realm of industry.
That doesn’t mean that the larger public isn’t benefiting from VR-2’s presence in the market. Aerospace company Boeing is using the headsets to train pilots for their Starliner – a craft developed in partnership with NASA.
NASA, Boeing, and Varjo
While NASA has gotten most of the credit, aerospace manufacturer Boeing has made all of the spacecraft used in their manned missions. Boeing is also largely involved in training astronauts, which has always been a challenge.
While brief zero-gravity flights are possible without leaving the atmosphere, and training in water can simulate operations in space, long-term training is always difficult. In some ways, replicating the feeling of space has been easier than replicating the sights and sounds of space. Varjo changed that.
“We are proud to be delivering the technology that is pushing industrial training applications to their furthest reaches – even to space,” Varjo CEO and co-founder, Niko Eiden, said in a release shared with ARPost. “With our devices, astronauts can see and virtually interact with the switches and control panels inside their Starliner capsule and read the real-time data on their crew displays. Advancements like this have the potential to transform the way any pilot is trained.”
Building the Experience
Varjo provided the headsets – which were hand-picked by Boeing’s Jim May and Connie Miller – but they didn’t do everything. Custom Boeing computers and controllers were required to make the training experiences as realistic as possible, according to documents Varjo shared with ARPost.
“This one feels like you’re there. You really get the presence of being in the environment,” Miller said in a Boeing release.
Boeing also made the experience using 3D scans of the Starliner console on Unreal Engine. While many readers will know the graphics engine from gaming, this isn’t their first trip to space. Unreal worked with the Microsoft HoloLens 2 to create an AR experience based around Apollo 11.
The use of VR for training doesn’t only make the training more spatial, it also makes it possible across greater distances than ever before.
“The ability to connect and jointly train astronauts from various countries, agencies, and private partnerships will be especially important as human spaceflight becomes more commercialized and accessible to everyone,” May said in the Boeing release.
One Massive Leap for VR
With the completion of the experience announced late last week, Chris Ferguson will soon start training with the program. Ferguson is Boeing’s first “corporate astronaut” and his upcoming crew flight test will be the first manned Starliner mission.
While it all might have happened without Varjo, it wouldn’t have happened like this.