A virtual environment can be used to explore anything from a Costa Rican rainforest to a new school building project. Now a new NASA program hopes to apply augmented reality (AR) to space exploration – with the help of a few students. A recent challenge by NASA’s Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students (SUITS), launched in 2017, tasked students with designing and creating spacesuit information displays that share vitals, location and more so in augmented reality environments.
“Team Aegis” from USC and the University of Arizona was one of 10 finalists in the SUITS challenge. Their display uses the Microsoft HoloLens 2 platform, a hands-free holographic device, and is said to host AR apps through the Unity game engine. For an astronaut exploring the moon, the user-friendly interface would share crucial information such as tracking the location of the astronaut and rover, and vitals such as heart rate and oxygen levels.
The last SUITS event took place in late May at the historic NASA Johnson Space Center Rock Yard in Houston, Texas. NASA officials assessed how well the students’ technologies addressed key issues in space, which replicates lunar conditions. The students not only got to test their designs, but they also got to tour the Space Center labs.
Evan Cooper, USC Viterbi master’s student in the Department of Astronautical Engineering and project leader, said, “The weekend was absolutely amazing. Being able to test our design in the exact location where NASA is testing technology that will take humanity to the moon and beyond is humbling. While the competition itself was the culmination of a year of effort, it was far more rewarding for me to see the effect it had on our team. Whether it’s visiting the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a test facility filled with a huge pool where astronauts train in microgravity, standing next to Saturn V, being able to hear leaders from industry, the word I heard the most was “surreal”. ”
Founded by Darlene Villicaña, a master’s student in visual anthropology at USC who studies extravehicular interfaces, the Aegis team started with a group of 11 students. In December 2021, after its proposal was accepted by the NASA SUITS program, the team quickly grew to over 60 students from multiple disciplines and experience levels. Advised by Professors David Barnhart and Garrett Reisman of USC Viterbi – as well as Assistant Professor Jessica Barnes of the University of Arizona – the students created an ambitious set of goals, a timetable and smaller teams who could work together to achieve the milestones.
The final test tasked teams with accurately guiding the user in real time between multiple planned and unplanned locations, helping crew members navigate and view and interact with the suit’s telemetry feed designated. Teams also needed to include a user-friendly interface displaying all the information needed by crew members.
“There were no real ‘winners,’ but the bottom line for NASA’s leadership and engineering team is that our group responded very well to each of the key issues and challenges,” Barnhart said. . “NASA officials strongly recommended that we submit an application for next year’s challenge.”
Says Villicaña, “Our team approached the challenge from an interdisciplinary perspective. We have a team of passionate Astronautical Engineering, Computer Science, Geology and Anthropology students who creatively applied different methodologies to solve the engineering problem.
The interdisciplinary nature of the challenge and the ability to translate basic concepts learned in the classroom into practical experience make it a valuable learning tool for students engaged in space engineering. So much so that Barnhart hopes to translate the experience into a class in the fall and allow more students to interact and prepare for the challenge next spring.
Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut, said, “Our USC/Arizona team did a great job and learned some very important real-world engineering lessons. Plus, we had the best sizzle video. I think it was a very valuable experience for our students and I certainly hope we will do it again next year.
The challenge precedes Artemis, NASA’s mission to land American astronauts on the Moon. To support this objective, it will be essential that crew members are equipped with the appropriate human-enabled technologies that offer vital real-time information.
“NASA SUITS has been a unique and invaluable experience that has given us the opportunity to tackle a real engineering problem, to work with leading experts in their fields who are actively working on these problems and technologies, and we provided access to NASA’s planetary analog testing site and the ability to work on future technologies that are part of NASA’s Artemis program to develop augmented reality in spacesuit design,” Villicaña said. learned new skills, encouraged young minds to pursue STEM through our outreach, worked as part of an interdisciplinary team, and made lifelong professional connections and friendships.”
The Aegis team has received support from USC Viterbi, the California Space Grant Consortium, and the Arizona Space Grant Consortium.
The full team, from USC and the University of Arizona, includes: Evan Cooper (Project Manager), Darlene Villicana (Deputy Project Manager, HITL and User Study Lead), Spencer Lin ( Lead Developer, UI/UX Lead), Andres Artze (Systems Engineering Lead), Basem Ibrahim Mikhail Rizk (Machine Learning Lead), Isaac Ward (Terrain Meshing Co-Lead), Will Farhat (Terrain Meshing Co-Lead), Jennifer Lee ( Navigation Co-Lead), Sophia Aguilar (Navigation Co-Lead), Akshita Swaminathan (Co-Lead Telemetry), Rohan Shukla (Co-Lead Telemetry), Zoe Wilbur (Co-Lead Geology), Patrick O ‘Brien (Co-Head of Geology), Stanley Lin (Head of Marketing), Aaron Shields, Aman Mohandas, Anand Shah, Andy Semin Park, Ann Tian Shao, Anunay Rajesh Bagga, Benran Zhang, Chandini Velilani, Christian Bryan, Dongzhe Wei, Elizabeth Lee, Ethan Ma, Felix Chen, Gabrielle Jung, Han Yue Emerald Liu, Ho Ko, Jason Chen, Jorge Gonzalez, Joshua Lac, Kamel Gazzaz, Kanika Jindal, Karim Rahal, Kasturi Khatun, Mansi Kulhari, Miru Jun, Nawach Kuptimanus, Ning Nie, Pavan Garidipuri, Phuong Pham, Smit Kadvani, Sofian Ghazali, Surya Roshan Mugada, Talha Rafique, Trinity Lopez, Yaxi Liu , Yeh Lin, Yuiwei Xi, Zhenghan Fang, Zhenghao Li
Posted July 1, 2022
Last updated July 1, 2022