HTC’s Vive Focus 3 to be Sent to the International Space Station to Aid Astronaut Mental Health

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HTC, a virtual reality (VR) company, has announced that a modified version of its Vive Focus 3 VR headset will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) on the scheduled November 7th NASA resupply launch. The modified headset aims to help alleviate the mental stress faced by astronauts while in space. Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will be testing the Vive Focus 3’s viability in addressing the challenges of the lack of privacy, high workloads, and separation from loved ones that astronauts experience during their missions.

To develop this modified headset, HTC collaborated with virtual reality therapy company XRHealth and aeronautics R&D company Nord-Space ApS. HTC has made significant improvements to the headset to prevent disorientation and motion sickness, which were issues in previous attempts at using VR in space. Thomas Dexmier, AVP of Enterprise Solutions at HTC, stated that the headset being tested is essentially the same as the one sold on Earth, with software changes and power management adjustments being the primary modifications.

One of the main challenges addressed by HTC is the spatial orientation problem caused by the lack of gravity in space. HTC solved this issue through software changes, linking the headset’s tracking algorithms to a stationary controller. This allows the headset to accurately track the wearer’s movements. The user can navigate menus using eye-tracking or the controller. The success of this modified headset will be tested during Mogensen’s months-long stay on the ISS.

XRHealth has developed VR software to accompany HTC’s modifications. The software includes 360-degree videos, including some from Denmark, Mogensen’s home country, to provide him with a sense of familiarity. Additionally, the software offers short breathing and meditation exercises. XRHealth envisions future updates to the software that could enable astronauts to connect with therapists and coaches back on Earth.

NASA has a long history of using VR technology. In the 1980s, research conducted at NASA’s Amex Research Center played a significant role in the development of VR technology. More recently, NASA and Microsoft collaborated to develop HoloLens software, allowing ground-based crew members to see what astronauts see and mark objects in their field of view. VR is also extensively used in astronaut training. It is natural for NASA to explore the use of VR to address astronauts’ behavioral health, given its potential benefits.

The success of the Vive Focus 3’s modified version in addressing astronaut mental health challenges could open doors for a more comprehensive VR experience for longer missions, including potential future Mars missions. The partnership between HTC and XRHealth showcases the growing potential of VR technology in addressing mental health concerns, even in extreme environments such as space.