Technology originally designed for video games often finds its way into other industries. Whether it is Microsoft Kinect allowing a robot to navigate an environment or a whole bunch of PS3s simulating a nuclear explosion — gaming technology is often used for more than it was originally intended for.
The newest gaming tech to finding itself outside of your living room is the Oculus Rift, a head mounted virtual reality system which was originally designed to immerse you in your favorite games, such as Team Fortress 2. Recently NASA and the European Space Agency (E.S.A.) began testing ways of incorporating this technology into their next generations of robotics for space exploration.
(The Heavy from TF2 sporting an Oculus Rift, Image from http://www.oculusvr.com/)
Scientists are currently investigating how such systems may be used to allow humans to better operate and control these units from great distances. During this year’s Game Developers Conference, Victor Luo and Jeff Norris from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab got on stage and controlled the ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer), using the LEAP motion sensor. By simply performing gestures with his hand, Luo had the robot moving in kind, despite being located 383 miles away in Pasadena. A veritable virtual puppet master, they impressed spectators who were able to watch the explorer’s movements through Google Hangout video chat.
(The Leap Motion Sensor in Action, Image from http://www.engadget.com/)
It is the hope of scientists and engineers that virtual reality aids like the Oculus Rift would allow a greater sense of immersion, facilitating the manipulation of robotic components in a more intuitive manner. Besides helping with exploration, these kinds of sensors may also be used to control repair drones in space, or perform complicated flight docking procedures.
Regardless of where these systems ends up, they have tremendous potential and countless applications, like many other forms of technologies made popular by gaming. With a community so willing to support new innovations, expect to see even more gaming tech make its way into other industries, planets and beyond.