The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory was the project sponsor.
My contributions were to user research, interaction design, and 3D prototyping.
Project length was 7 months.
Teammates were Terrie Chan, Eugene Meng, and Brian Orlando.
What is the Problem?
NASA missions bring together distant people to explore space. As admirable as this goal is, there are a lot of problems they need to overcome to work together.
For instance, Imagine using 3 different apps at the same time, in person, to get feedback on a proposal. That is the only way for NASA mission planners to get feedback.
What SpaceTalk Can Do
A lot of the data NASA collects is 3D by nature. Furthermore, mission planners understand data through its environmental context. An intuitive, accessible way to portray 3D data is through mobile virtual reality. This way, mission planners can finally collect feedback across distances.
See the orientation and bearing of the orbiter in relation to Europa, Earth, or the Sun.
In the Schedule Zone, mission planners can see when instruments are operating, and how.
See Europa from the point of view of the orbiter.
Discovering a Space Exploration Culture
Our first task in this project was to remotely interview NASA engineers, scientists, and subject matter experts. The data uncovered here would form the foundation for the rest of our project.
Check out the final Research Report deliverable that we delivered to our sponsor.
Constraining Our Design With Principles
Embrace NASA's Heritage › We must not only embrace NASA’s drive to push the envelope of what’s possible, but we must also prove the utility and robustness of our design through extensive testing and simulation.
Acknowledge the Politics › Acknowledge political motivations and tensions in an effort to improve collaboration between mission stakeholders.
Socially Translucent › Make system actions and activities clearly visible among all teams to instill trust and empathy.
Time Sensitive › Be cognizant of the limited time in the mission and take quick, time-sensitive, face-to-face interactions into account.
Emotionally Aware › Recognize the emotional valence of these types of missions in order to help users perform the right tasks in the right contexts.
Just Redundant Enough › Provide redundant data in all appropriate contexts, but only when necessary.
Adaptable and Flexible › Accommodate the expected uncertainty of orbiter missions and a constantly changing mission plan, schedule and timeline.
Immersive Where It Counts › Only employ 3D immersive environments when necessary. They can be amazing, but can also detract from productivity.
Moving Forward With Mobile VR Timeline Tool
Primary users are Mission Planners.
The platform is the Google Daydream.
The VR Timeline tool allows people to contact someone else in another city to clear up confusion. They can join a VR chat using their phones to visualize information virtually.
Note › We struggled at this stage to decide on a concept to move forward with. Before this, we could not interview users on-site. This meant that it was very difficult to identify a concept that matched to a user's needs.

A short story board to demonstrate the use case.

Validate Concept Through Video Prototype
We were focusing on mission planners and their needs. Yet, they would also be talking to scientists, who had needs as well. To see if our concept served both groups well, we put together two concept videos for them to watch and critique.
We realized we were not prepared to show scientific information in a trustworthy way. In response, we pivoted to focus only on mission planners.

One of our concept prototypes.

Develop an Interaction Flows
We then established how someone might move through the system. Some highlights:
▸ VR experience mediated through your personal phone.
▸ Simple menu system to minimize information searching.

A general interaction flow describing the entire SpaceTalk experience.

Focusing on the initial stage of the experience, users would start their VR session through their mobile phone, initiating 1 of 3 different sessions:
▸ Immediate 2 person session
▸ Schedule a 2 person session for the future
▸ Jump into a private session

A more specific interaction flow describing the mobile experience.

Interactive Prototype Using A-Frame
There were two aspects of the prototype we wanted to test for: visual comfort, and asset placement. The feedback that we got from participants showed us that we would not need to change visuals at all. However, improving readability was necessary. Secondly, we found that we should place assets at least 2 meters away from the user.
Note › It was unexpectedly difficult to design assets for immersive environments. There is a lack in accepted design heuristics for virtual reality that could have used.

A snapshot from the interactive prototype we built.

Final Thoughts
There is still much to design in this project. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to do everything that we wanted to do. If we had more time:
There were so many aspects of this project that we needed to define, it became overwhelming. Defining more about asset placement within the virtual space would have been great to do.
Secondly, we did not have the skills to develop the headset prototype much further than we got it to. It would have been great to find an experienced VR developer to help us push the boundaries even more.
Lastly, by the end, we had run out of time to conduct much more usability testing with the final prototypes. Taking more time to collect feedback would have been invaluable.

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