The Wireless Augmented Reality Prototype (WARP) is a system for personal access to a local area network with video, audio, and sensor data services. The center of the WARP system is a lightweight, unobtrusive heads-up display with a wireless wearable control unit, called the Remote Access Unit (RAU). Data services to the RAU are provided through a high-rate radio link from the WARP RAU to a stationary base-station interface unit which sits on an ordinary local area network. The RAU-to-interface unit radio link has been engineered to operate within the high-interference, high-multipath environment of a space shuttle or space station module.
The key to WARP is the streamlining and miniaturization of the wearable RAU, allowing long-term use without battery replacement or continuous re-loading of new data. This has been accomplished by paring the RAU electronics down to include only highly integrated video and audio compression / decompression and data multiplexing circuits along with a high-rate two-way radio link. This approach not only allows real-time video and audio conferencing through WARP, but also removes the requirement for information to be stored in the wearable unit. Instead, the most up-to-date and directly relevant data may be retrieved on demand, as real-time situations dictate.
One of the major technology challenges with this concept has been to provide wireless high-rate information in the environment of a space module. Tight confines, metal walls, and lack of radio absorbers create an enormous potential for destructive self-interference. The development of this radio technology is synergistic with the development of technology for efficient and high-quality video data compression; the WARP communications channel contains video, audio, and sensor data simultaneously.
In the space station applications, a virtual terminal is provided by a RAU and headset pair. The user will be able to view and manipulate imagery, text or video, using voice commands to control the terminal operations. WARP hands-free access to computer-based instruction texts, diagrams, and checklists replaces juggling manuals and clipboards, and tetherless computer system access allows free motion throughout a cabin while monitoring and operating equipment.
Along with information provided to the astronaut, WARP also allows external observation of the astronaut's situation; personal biosensors connected to the RAU can send back continuous telemetry and a miniature camera integrated into the headset provides real-time video of the wearer's field of view. In this way, for example, a principal investigator located on Earth may consult with a payload specialist on the operation or troubleshooting of the equipment. Using this same mechanism, WARP RAUs may also be used with stand-alone wireless sensor packages that send data, from low-rate environmental sensors or high-rate cameras, back through the existing WARP wireless network to the base station. Packetized data may be sent to various monitor computers for logging or alarm.
Future applications of WARP are in any environment where heads-up, hands-free information retrieval — and remote situational awareness — improves efficiency, including field operations, tetherless operations/monitor consoles, remote consultations in medical or maintenance procedures, and hazardous or confined-space activities. The extension of WARP system and RAUs into a wireless SensorNet is a novel approach to space or air vehicle infrastructures, saving mass and providing flexibility over hard-wired sensor or camera installations.
The WARP program has built and integrated several Phase II WARP systems. The Phase II system supports single, independent RAU-to-base station connections to a single PC. Phase II WARP is under evaluation at Johnson Space Center. Development is now underway on Phase III WARP, which will allow each interface unit to network multiple RAUs, and will allow individual RAUs to be supported dynamically by multiple interface units which are installed in a cellular network type model throughout an extended area.
This work was done by Martin Agan, Ann S. Devereaux, and Thomas Jedrey of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.nasatech.com/tsp under the Electronics & Computers category.
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