UI me to the Moon

The Moon has always held a special place in our hearts. So we were especially jazzed to see WIRED magazine profiling a user-experience design class that’s being taught by LUNAR’s Shiz Kobara at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

The LUNAR angle? The class is sponsored by NASA and the students are developing a software user interface that astronauts aboard the International Space Station will use to control robots on Earth next year and on the Moon in the not-too-distant future.

The students’ UI design task is to develop and test in real time the interface for complicated software that controls the four-wheeled K-10 explorer robot. Currently based in Iceland, the robot is capturing video and still images, and scanning its environment with a laser radar — all while moving across a barren landscape.

For the 2013 mission, astronauts will run similar test from the ISS. If all goes well, NASA will run the same mission on the Moon and eventually on Mars.

In WIRED’s article, Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames, says he expects robots to help astronauts by performing tasks too dangerous, boring, repetitive or lengthy to be optimal for humans, “such as mounting antennas, setting up solar arrays, and mining for precious metals on the surface of the moon.”

Shiz, LUNAR’s director of user experience, is team-teaching the class with Mark Bolick, director of AAU’s Industrial Design department.

“Our UI challenge is to simplify the complicated software into an intuitive, easy-to-operate user interface without compromising any of the critical functionality around motion, scanning and photography,” he notes. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see a student’s mind click when they get an insight into a complicated problem. This usually leads to breakthrough thinking and new ideas for improving the UI.”

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