Cisco Webex wants to help NASA astronauts make video calls from space

Cisco Webex wants to help NASA astronauts make video calls from space

Cisco claims it has come away with some new key improvements for Webex after the platform was utilized in NASA’s Artemis 1 (opens in new tab) mission, the Orion spacecraft’s 25-day unmanned journey across the moon.

The video conferencing software program fashioned a part of Callisto (opens in new tab), a “technology-demonstration payload” consisting of an Alexa and an iPad operating Webex, all housed in a radiation-hardened casing. 

Lockheed Martin, makers of the Orion capsule, partnered with Amazon and Cisco to check the unit through the mission. 

Webex modifications

The aim of Callisto was to see how right this moment’s shopper tech might be used successfully in house. For its half, Cisco needed Webex to facilitate face-to-face interplay as greatest it may between these on earth and people in house, necessary on lengthy and lonely house missions that preserve astronauts to date other than their family members. 

For the reason that mission was uncrewed, cameras have been positioned dealing with the iPad to see if the video feed from mission management made its approach. With a view to function the software program, Cisco additionally developed automated macros to carry out sure capabilities.

At an occasion attended by TechRadar Professional, Jono Luk, Cisco’s VP of Product Administration, outlined the distinctive challenges the corporate confronted in making video calls work between earth and house.

One downside stemmed from lack of an web connection. NASA makes use of its deep house community to speak with spacecraft, which consists of three satellite tv for pc dishes all over the world, so Webex needed to leverage this as an alternative to transmit its video alerts. 

The problem was that Cisco was solely allotted a bandwidth of round 128kb/s, so Webex engineers needed to modify the software program to shrink the video alerts by an element of ten, while nonetheless retaining a viable high quality. 

The opposite downside was latency. Luk mentioned that utilizing Webex between any factors on earth solely ever ends in latency figures round 40-100 milliseconds, however throughout Artemis 1, the latency encountered was between 5 and 7 seconds. Even when Webex was used on the Worldwide Area Station, it did not encounter latency points on this scale. So engineers needed to create new algorithms to account for this latency, guaranteeing that audio and video nonetheless synced up. 

One other lesson Cisco discovered was extra conceptual moderately than technological. After a while testing Callisto through the mission, Luk mentioned they found that gradual communication issues might be offset by making use of drawings and photos as an alternative, utilizing the whiteboard characteristic inside Webex and a Cisco Webex Board in mission management. 

In addition to speaking sure concepts faster, there was additionally much less latency in utilizing these strategies than a direct digital camera feed, as Luk famous that digital scrawls include much less knowledge than video feeds, making for faster transmission instances. 

Now that the mission is full, Luk urged Webex had succeeded on all fronts, and as a bonus, claimed it even set the document for the longest-distance video name through the mission, at round 260,000 miles between endpoints.

What’s extra, he claimed that the enhancements and insights ensuing from the mission have bled into shopper variations of Webex. As an illustration, the open-source AV1 codec that Webex makes use of was modified to repair the aforementioned latency and bandwidth issues, with Luk suggesting that it has contributed again to the mission for different customers of the codec.

Luk additionally urged that a few of the automated macros that have been developed shall be seeing their approach into the software program.

Luk conceded that there have been nonetheless human interplay points when speaking at such huge distances. He expressed his want that some form of UI immediate may have been developed, had time allowed, to let customers know when the sign had reached the particular person on the opposite finish. This fashion, they might be capable to inform the distinction between latency and a person or technological error if their interlocutor remained unresponsive. 

Though subsequent Artemis missions are within the pipeline, Cisco would not know whether or not it’s going to get the call-up once more. And looking out even additional forward, crewed mission to Mars are additionally being mentioned by NASA. If such desires do materialize, then it appears Luk is assured that Webex could be prepared for the lengthy journey forward.

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