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Virtual Reality Astronaut Training Demonstrated over Global ATM

Virtual Reality (VR) over a global asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) network was used for the first time to demonstrate collaborative training for astronauts on different continents. The demonstrations took place over four days this August during the annual SIGGRAPH 96 convention and exhibition. SIGGRAPH is the premiere computer graphics gathering with 30,000 persons in attendance.

Two "astronauts" both wore head-mounted displays and cybergloves for interacting in the virtual environment. They were linked via a transatlantic ATM network extending from New Orleans to Darmstadt, Germany and worked together to install new electronics in a Hubble Space Telescope. They were observed by SIGGRAPH attendees viewing a large stereographic projection of the VR scene and live video of the actual scientists in each country. The work involved was a result of a collaboration among the:

These researchers are some of the first to use ATM over intercontinental links for virtual reality applications. ATM offers the potential advantage of providing connection-less communications with minimal delay and higher bandwidth -- critical requirements for collaborative work in VEs. This was shown through the simultaneous exchange of data for the virtual environment, video, and audio.

NASA and the European Space Agency are both interested in the use of this technology in development and training for the International Space Station Freedom.

Global One, TeleGlobe Canada and German Telekom have sponsored the use of the transatlantic ATM link as part of the MAY research project. The object of MAY is the development of new, advanced applications that can leverage the capabilities of intercontinental ATM networks. The distributed environment for training NASA Space Shuttle astronauts is one such demanding application.

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Michael R. Macedonia