A team of University of Akron students is at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston this week to test its helmet-based, augmented reality display system designed to help astronauts on spacewalks.

The team is one of only 12 nationwide invited to participate in the NASA Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students (S.U.I.T.S.) Challenge. It's the second year that UA has been invited.

“We have learned a few lessons from last year and made some significant changes to the system,” team adviser Shiva Sastry, director of strategic initiatives and professor of electrical and computer engineering at UA, said in a prepared statement. “We are honored and thrilled to have this awesome learning opportunity for our students and to represent the university again.”

The teams are designing and testing their display systems on a Microsoft HoloLens, a headset with “mixed reality” smart glasses, in which computer-generated images are superimposed onto the user’s experience of reality.

Astronauts now must rely on remote voice communication from mission control and crew members to receive instructions and procedures during spacewalks. With AR-capable helmets, however, they would have immediate access to instructions, procedures, graphics, suit status and other information in the form of an audiovisual display.

Led by Bach X. Tran, a second-year doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering and the only returning member of last year’s UA team, and Sarah Medved, a fourth-year electrical engineering major, the seven-member team spent the past semester and a half refining their display system.

“Working on this project gives me a huge advantage of diving into new technology,” Tran said in a prepared statement. “We realized a great deal of opportunities of AR in the near future and identified the challenges and solutions.”