2012/11/10 Status: Idea

Window to Earth

Current Astronauts say that they spend every free minute observing planet Earth trough the windows at the International Space Station.

Windows at a spacestation will also be a very popular spot for future space tourists. Hours and hours will be spent just watching Earth from Orbit and making pictures & videos. Our research shows that space tourists at one point want to know what they are seeing in case the can’t recognise the parts of Earth without any additional geographical information or in case it is cloudy.

Design Question: How can an astronaut make sense of what he/she sees through the window to Earth and what information could help?

What if one of the windows at a space station has an additional augmented reality view (real-world-window + AR as overlay) to identify specific points on planet Earth:

A window on board a space station with a gorgeous look over the northern hemisphere.
Astronauts can press and hold the control-button until the interface prompts up for voice-controlling the window to show the information they want.
In this case a space tourist wants to see the address of a friend who lives in Norway. The application has access to the address-bock of the astronaut and finds the information.
The window shows the selected address together with an image of the contact. A space tourist can now have a better feeling of what he sees and where his friends are. A space tourist now maybe even call his/her friend and tell him about what he/she see from Orbit.
An astronaut can press the button quickly in order to hide all additional visualizations again.

other possible applications for Window to Earth:

show city-names or identify the position of well known landmarks to orientate yourself from the EarthView and feel more connected to a place while orbiting over it.
show weather information about the temperature, the windforce,… down on Earth.

- compare current view with historical map information to show how things have changed (rainforest decrease,…).

- show star constellations, location of other planets in the solar system (in case the window is not oriented to Earth).

next steps

- get feedback
- define applications & design AR-interface and button-usability (no accidental press!)
- build experience prototype

5 to “Window to Earth”

  1. Jerry Isdale says...

    How will the viewer’s head be tracked so you can properly align the icon positions? Note also that when displaying icons on a surface, they will be in proper position for only one viewer.

  2. Jerry Isdale says...

    Consider instead using a head worn display ala Google’s Project Glass (which is a recent version of decades old tech). Using a head worn system means you dont have to replace the ISS windows (expen$ive!) and would allow multiple people to view personally augmented views. You could use a video based tracker with camera(s) pointed at people in the cupola to determine position of head, and combine that with ISS attitude relative to earth/stars to create the AR glyphs.

  3. Jerry Isdale says...

    An AR system could also be useful around the ISS and with variable focus, could adapt to changes in the astronaut’s eyes due to low G environment. It could label items and provide read-outs that are adaptably in-focus, as opposed to the fixed panel displays.

  4. Michael Turner says...

    This sort of augmentation raises a question: once you have good enough real-time response for the augmentations of the views, how easy is it to substitute the view itself? That is, one doesn’t have to be in space anymore, to get an equivalent viewing experience. One can be anywhere.

    If you also want the experience of viewing in weightlessness, that can be had relatively cheaply by wearing the same augmentation equipment on parabolic zero-g flights, which are already available with conventional aircraft. Offering this experience might be a boon for orbital tourism, by whetting appetites in the target demographic. It might have the opposite effect, though: “Nice, but … is that all there is?”

    Astronauts spend all available free time looking out the window in part because they don’t actually have much free time available, after working, eating and sleeping. They are kept on very tight schedules.

    Orbital tourism is much more the high end of adventure travel than it is the high end of sightseeing. Space Adventures’ customers so far are people who are paying to get the experience of being an astronaut. Several of those who’ve gone have ended up working very hard in orbit. IIRC, in the case of Richard Garriot, I’ve read that he could hardly afford to go, so he lined up a lot of science projects to do for money. ($18M worth?)

Leave a comment