Nasa VR tracked astronaut tools

In order to create a truly immersive experience to train astronauts, NASA engaged Synapse to help them achieve unmatched realism with custom-built VR training tools.

NASA’s Hybrid Reality Lab has been working to create virtual training scenarios by leveraging Valve’s SteamVR Virtual Reality platform. The objective of these training scenarios is to familiarize astronauts on the tools and procedures required to do their jobs while on the International Space Station (ISS).

Astronauts use and handle their tools in many different ways, including one-handed, two-handed, strapped to their spacesuit, or even clipped onto a nearby object. As such, using a normal VR controller with a realistic in-game model was not sufficient. In NASA’s application, the users’ view in VR needs to also be felt, especially details such as the switches and buttons.

Seamlessly blending the real and virtual worlds

NASA needed their Pistol Grip Tool, a go-to tool used on the ISS, to track in SteamVR for the training to achieve ultimate immersion. Over the course of three months, Synapse worked closely with the Hybrid Reality Lab to create a custom controller that tracks reliably in SteamVR, but aesthetically looks and feels like the Pistol Grip Tool.

Synapse leveraged in-house fused deposition modeling (FDM) printing and laser cutting capabilities to build and test fully functional, low-cost prototypes, ensuring accurate simulation of switches, buttons, and exterior shape before producing robust high-quality units.

Synapse delivered four 3D printed, trackable devices that accurately simulate the real Pistol Grip Tool used on the space station at the conclusion of the project.