space wearable

Innovative Space Wearables Propel Astronauts’ Tech Capabilities

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr

Some of the most radical technology hits outer space before being popularized on Earth — so it makes sense that astronauts are set to don some of the most useful and interesting “space wearable” technology we’ve seen.

Despite the Apple Watch’s preliminary success, the wearable technology trend has been an underwhelming one on a consumer level.

But beyond the everyday person, wearable technology has a huge amount of potential to provide functionality to those with technology-dependent jobs, those removed from humanity, or those with functional disadvantages. Like astronauts, for example.

Here are some examples of what wearable technology is doing for those beyond the Karman line.

Astronauts and AR

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”HSfFcsQkiUAqLzk8UNTtH8z7rTb9ZcAk”]Google glass flopped on Earth. But in zero-gravity, augmented reality (AR) glasses are more likely to float — literally.

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In 2014, NASA set its sights on wearable gadgetry, and even tapped Google to see if Glass technology would be a good fit (Google declined due to their focus on consumers). Of dozens of other submissions to partner with NASA, the agency chose the San Francisco company Osterhout Design Group to develop its custom AR glasses.

The glasses will upload information to the wearer’s screen, displaying how-to guides and other directions on the lenses so astronauts can maneuver hands-free, and finally retire  cumbersome stacks of index-cards.

Space Apps: Competing Space Wearables

It’s not just NASA that think wearable technology is the perfect fit for astronauts. The space agency partnered with global governments and organizations in a collaborative effort to develop applications and solutions to better life and exploration through what was  called the International Space Apps Challenge in 2014.

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The challenge directives included Space Wearables: Fashion Designer to Astronauts, and international challenge to develop wearable space apps and solutions.

Projects included:

  • Scenti8: This wearable wristband lets astronauts connect with the smells they love on Earth — and the memories that come with them.  (Read more about how virtual smell works here).
  • M.A.D (Medical Administration Device): Wristbands for astronauts that can deliver medicine and take blood samples discreetly through microneedles and bluetooth.
  • Emotional Health Headset: This lightweight, Glass-like headset analyzes the wearer’s facial expressions to monitor the mental stability of astronauts, who often work under stressful conditions.
  • Improved space suits: Many of the projects involved the redesign more practical, technologically-savvy space suits, characterized by aspects like better ease of function, fashion, front and back cameras, and embedded sensors.

Robo-joystick Space Wearable 

Lastly, astronauts are testing wearable robo-joysticks. While this may just seem like a fancier version of a game control stuck on your waist instead of in your hands, it’s a lot more interesting than that: the robotic device allows astronauts to control space rovers from a far.

The “touchy-feely” joysticks, attached by harnesses to astronauts, were tested from the ISS in 2014, from which wearers drove robots on Earth from space. This could be a vital mechanism for astronauts to remotely explore strange planets from spacecrafts in the future, mitigating the risks and costs of landing.

What’s next?  

The future of space wearables looks bright as NASA continues to look for new wearable hardware and software to make sure life and work in space is functional, comfortable, and rife with innovation. Should spaceflight go fully commercial, who knows? You and I could be wearing them next.

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Jennifer Markert