Exploring space using virtual reality

The full article appears in All About Space issue 66 (originally published on 26 June 2017). Free preview: 

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International Women’s Day 2017: Women leading the way in science and technology

IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world
(Wiki Commons/George Joch/courtesy Argonne National Laboratory)

Celebrated on 8 March every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) was first marked by the United Nations in 1975 and celebrates women’s achievements.

The day marks a call for action for boosting gender parity and includes a range activities such as political rallies, and conferences. This year’s theme is aimed at working towards a more gender inclusive working world.

Yahoo News UK asked five women leading the charge in the historically male-dominated science and tech world about how they worked their way into their current roles and what challenges they faced along the way. Here’s what they told us…

Kim Nilsson

CEO

Pivigo

Kim Nilsson, CEO, Pivigio

What does your current job involve?

“I’m the CEO and one of two founders of Pivigo, a data science marketplace and training provider. We connect freelancing data scientists with organisations and businesses looking to become more data driven on our online platform. As CEO of a start-up I tend to get involved in everything that goes on in the business.”

What route did you take to your current role?

“Oh, a very long one. I decided when I was 13 years old that I wanted to become an astronomer, and from there it was a straight path to my PhD in Astrophysics. I continued with two more science positions before I finally came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I thought I would.

“I ended up doing an MBA at Cranfield School of Management in the UK, just to learn about business and figure out what my place in industry was going to be. I would never have thought it would be as an entrepreneur, although perhaps I should have known given that I am in fact a fourth-generation female entrepreneur in my family.”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

“Starting a tech business as a female PhD graduate was not easy. There is a lot of prejudice towards women still, unfortunately, and on top of that also towards academics. It has taken me several years of hard work to earn a certain level of respect in the industry, and to prove that I can do business as well as anyone in this industry.

“Fortunately, outright examples of discrimination are still rare, but they do happen. Most recently I tried to network with a VC at an event who clearly only had interest in the male CEO of another start-up that was standing next to me. Still, I do find that these individuals come around quickly once they do listen to me and understand that I have something of relevance to say, and that I can say it with authority.”

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into a similar role?

“Just do it! If you are new to starting a business, make sure you have access to advice. If you don’t have a co-founder, this could be via an accelerator programme, via your University, or via your wider network. Also set yourself a goal and a decision point. For example, decide how many clients you want to have, or how far you want to get with your product launch, by a certain date and agree with yourself to evaluate at that point whether it is worth continuing or not. That way you are taking a calculated risk, and whether it works or not you will have gathered incredibly valuable experience.”

You can read the full article at Yahoo News UK (originally published 8 March 2017).

Cool coding just for kids

Pioneering Nasa scientist Katherine Johnson celebrated in Lego

If nerds are the new rock stars, it’s time to get kids techy

Tech innovation depends on brainpower. That’s why encouraging children to study STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is vital. And the good news is there’s help at hand. Lego has just launched its Boost sets, which incorporate app-based coding — allowing kids to bring their creations to life.

Aimed at children aged seven and older, the kits enable youngsters to build projects including Vernie The Robot and the Guitar 4000, while learning about how the built-in motors and sensors work. They can even add personality to their creations using voice recordings.

The Danish toymaker is also working on a Women Of Nasa set. Designed to mark the accomplishments of women and people of colour in space (and hopefully encourage their successors) it has just been given the green light to go into production…

You can read the full article in Metro (originally published 10 March 2017).

How VR and AR could turn you into a bona fide space explorer

12444-c9a15545b69790cfe97a93810d1c1e12Mainstream virtual reality is still in its infancy but it’s been tackling the final frontier – space – for years. Now the latest hardware, such as the Oculus RiftHTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR headsets, combined with sophisticated 360-degree filming techniques, is finally bringing space exploration to the masses.

VR’s ability to produce large-scale 3D environments not only offers armchair astronauts a glimpse of what life is like in space, it is now also more helpful than ever at aiding real-life astronauts in their jobs both on Earth and out there. 

What’s more, augmented reality can offer spacemen and women a new perspective by merging the worlds of Earth and space. Compared to VR, though, augmented reality still has some way to go before we start to see smartglasses and AR helmets both on our faces and in our homes.

Training astronauts

While virtual reality has been relatively slow to catch on in the mainstream, NASA has been using it for more than 25 years because it’s simply one of the best ways to replicate space while remaining safely on home soil.

“Simulated environments have always been important in astronaut training,” explains Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division.

The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronaut crews all spent at least one third of their training time in simulators and contemporary crews use VR simulations to train for tasks on the International Space Station (ISS).

Early NASA headsets were improvised affairs – the first prototype of the Virtual Environment Workstation headset was built from a motorcycle helmet – and the American space agency has continued to update the tech involved. Astronauts now use NASA’s Virtual Reality Lab (VRL), located at the Johnson Space Center, to train for missions aboard the ISS. Using a headset, real-time graphics and motion simulators, astronauts train to carry out tasks during microgravity spacewalks.

A vital part of the training involves using their powered jetpack – the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER) – which carries very limited fuel, to navigate their way back to the ISS should they get stranded in space. 

The ability to recreate a life-size 3D environment makes VR ideal for astronaut training and now NASA is looking at using augmented reality to keep reality in the frame.

You can read the full article at Wareable (originally published 20 April 2016).