HTCs Vive Focus 3 has a new and far-reaching mission: the mental health of astronauts

HTC Goes to Space The company announced today that an optimized, microgravity-friendly version of its Vive Focus 3 virtual reality headset will be sent to the International Space Station on NASA’s scheduled November 7 relaunch. Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will test the viability of the Focus 3 to help reduce the psychological stress that NASA says comes from the lack of privacy, high and variable workloads and separation from loved ones inherent in working in space.

HTC partnered with a virtual reality therapy company called XRHealth to work on a virtual mental balance assistance initiative by the aviation research and development company Nord-Space ApS to meet the unique needs of astronauts. HTC believes its optimized Vive Focus 3 headset won’t disorient or disorientate astronauts, unlike past attempts to use VR in space, where the lack of gravity needed to provide the VR headset with a frame of reference can be nauseatingly out of sync. . movements of the wearer

The HTC Vive Focus 3 is packed for its trip to the ISS.
Image: Danish Aerospace Corporation / Nord-Space ApS

said Thomas Dreksmeier, assistant vice president of HTC Vives threshold In an interview that, in addition to software tweaks and some necessary power management tweaks, Mogensen’s Vive Focus 3 will otherwise be the same as what’s sold here on Earth.

The company says it has solved the spatial orientation problem in software, connecting its tracking algorithms to one of the controllers, which is fixed and tracked by the headset’s cameras and proximity sensor. This gives the Focus 3 the relative position it needs to match its movement with the user. At the same time, the user can navigate the menus using eye tracking or another controller.

Testing the Vive Focus 3 on a parabolic flight in November 2022.
Image: Novespace

A stay of several months will be a big test of the effectiveness of HTC’s approach. So far, HTC says the headset has only been weightless for about 20 seconds at a time during parabolic free-fall simulations. If the Focus 3 survives this mission, it could open the door to a more robust VR-based experience aimed at longer missions, including a possible two-year round trip to Mars.

Along with HTC’s tricks on this mission is VR software developed by XRHealth. Eran Orr, the company’s founder and CEO, said Mogensen will have access to about 10 mostly 360-degree videos, including some from Denmark, where he is from, with the idea of ​​trying to [him] The software also offers short breathing exercises and meditation, while further updates may offer more features once the headset is installed on the station.

Screenshot from one of the videos XRHealth created for testing the ISS Vive Focus 3s.
Image: XRHealth

But this, like the Vive hardware, is only an experiment and there is no therapeutic aspect. It’s a very small step forward, Orr told me, but the vision is much bigger than what we’re doing now. Ultimately, XRHealth hopes astronauts will use the headset to communicate with people on Earth, including therapists and coaches.

Astronaut Andreas Mogensen is undergoing spacewalk training at the Virtual Reality Lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.
Image: NASA

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