Wearable Tech World Feature Article
October 22, 2014

Is Oculus Rift Headed to Space?

Since the beginning of space travel, man has pushed further and deeper into the black abyss we know as the universe. At first the goal was space in general, then the moon, and now it appears Mars will be the next frontier to be checked off the list. With each stop on the innovation train, new obstacles arise with unintended consequences and entirely new sets of issues to tackle.

Over the years, studies have shown that space travel, especially long-term space travel, places significant strain on the human body—and the mind. These studies illustrated that space travel can lead to mental issues like depression and isolation, as well as creating cleavages in interpersonal relationships with fellow crew members. Because long-term space exploration is most certainly a part of NASA’s game plan for Mars, this is something that must be addressed.

NASA recently invested $1.6 million to Dartmouth University for virtual reality research using the Oculus Rift. The team at Dartmouth’s Digital Arts Leadership and Innovation Lab (DALI) believes it may have found a solution to the mental toll of interplanetary travel, by bringing the astronauts “home”—not home as in earth, but instead making them feel as though they are home via virtual reality.

The experience would include the senses of sight, smell and sound, taking the astronaut anywhere they would like to go, and in doing so calm their nerves.

"The brain can be tricked into thinking we are in another local quite easily," Lorie Joeb, the DALI lab's executive director, told Mashable. "We will use as many sensory inputs as we can, from wind, to sound to smell. If you've ever tried a virtual reality, it is amazing how much you feel like you are there."

This technology is already in testing in a Mars-like habitat environment, where for eight months the six-man crew will see the validity of DALI’s hypothesis.

Back in March, Facebook acquired Oculus Rift and was met with questions—such as, “What is Facebook going to do with a wearable?” The headset was built for gamers by gamers, but much like most technology, people are only beginning to realize the capabilities virtual reality offers. Only time will tell how DALI’s test turns out and how the Oculus Rift will be used next, but one thing is for certain virtual reality is here to stay. 

Edited by Alisen Downey

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