NASA’s Next-Gen Mars Rover is Being Built in Virtual Reality

The tool that NASA is using to build the next Mars Rover? The HoloLens.

5. 30. 16 by Jelor Gallego
Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Microsoft

With all the things NASA’s Curiosity rover has done—from finding organic molecules on the Red Planet to uncovering an ancient seabed—it’s no surprise that the space agency is scrambling to build its next rover project, hoping to do even more than its current bot has done. And it is getting help from an unexpected source: Mixed reality.

Meet ProtoSpace, one of NASA’s  mixed reality experiments at the Jet Propulsion Lab. Essentially, the project uses Microsoft’s augmented-reality headset, the HoloLens, to project images of rover design in 3D.

This enables JPL designers and engineers to not only visualize their designs as virtual 3D objects, but also pinpoint potential problems that could affect space missions along the way.

This project is essentially an exercise of Computer Assisted Design. The vehicle appears as a CAD model in holographic form, a 3D floating, dynamic animation. It allows engineers to look at the model’s outside and inside parts and slip their arms through the brightly colored nuts and bolts. It’s basically a full-scale replica of the rover.


ProtoSpace is one of two mixed reality projects by NASA. The other one is OnSight, which is a VR rendering of Mars that is based on Curiosity’s data.

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