I have been on a two week hiatus, I finished finals WOOHOO and have been enjoying Christmas holiday! But now It is time to utilize the rest of my winter break and really focus in on this blogging venture for a bit. I have joined Instagram and a lot of advice out there is to have an accompanying YouTube videos with your blog post. Editing takes a lot of time but I have managed to make one so far. I will save my future plans for another post. This post is going to be about reflections on 2019. I took a poll on Instagram (links below) about what my next post should be, and not many people over there want to hear about Game Dev, but a few wanted to hear about my NASA SUITS experience and majority polled other… but no suggestions so… here we go my NASA SUITS experience.
I transferred to CU Boulder Fall of 2018. Upon transferring I was desperate to be involved in student groups and clubs. I got information about the Gaming Club, AR/VR Club, Women in Computing, etc. Through these clubs I learned about other opportunities. Through the AR/VR club I learned about a program called NASA SUITS: Spacesuit User Interface Technologies. website here. They can explain it much better than I can, so here is the excerpt from the website.
NASA SUITS (Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students) challenges students to design and create spacesuit information displays within augmented reality (AR) environments.
2019’s challenge was to created a augmented reality user interface or AR UI that would be able to assist astronauts during extravehicular activities, such as maintenance on the space station. It is a software and programming heavy challenge. Unlike most other NASA student challenges which require a great deal of mechanical and electrical engineering knowledge. With NASA challenges usually appealing to these backgrounds, The 2018 CU team was comprised mostly of graduate and PhD students from aerospace and electrical engineering backgrounds. In 2019 they advertised to undergrads. I went to the intro meeting and like maybe 10 people showed up. They showed us the previous years design on the Microsoft HoloLens. It was beautiful to me. I imagined all the sci-fi heads-up displays I saw from my favorite shows and how badly I wanted them to be a reality. This was so cool!
Fall Semester 2018:
Before teams start on their design, they have to write a proposal and submit it to the folks over at JSC. In the proposal we have to write our ideas and how we are going to meet the requirements that JSC has posted for the design challenge. Here were the requirements and then we also had our solutions:
With these in mind we used the knowledge of the SUITS veterans and what we know about aerospace and started formulating our ideas on whiteboards and sharing them in a slack channel. We had weekly meetings and began our proposal a month before the due date. The proposal was no joke, it’s a 27 page document where we had to cite scholarly sources and provide evidence to back up our design concepts. The proposal was the deciding factor as to whether our team would be selected to participate at JSC. A lot was riding on the proposal.
While working on the proposal we divided into sub teams: Human Factors, Outreach, and Programming. I volunteered to be the head of the programming team. I was familiar with the software being used (Unity and Vuforia) and I wanted to focus on getting better at programming in Unity. However the learning curve of not understanding Unity scripting API and the Microsoft HoloLens APIs that came with the Mixed Reality tool kit was an overwhelming experience. We were a team of three people, two CS and one Physics major on the programming team, none of whom had never worked in Unity before and whose curricula can be very demanding.
The saving grace and the most frustrating part of this project was that we were able to build off the project from the 2018 group’s design. The biggest problem with doing this was the compatibility across all APIs and version control.
In early December we found out our proposal had been approved and we could move forward with the project, with the goal of being able to present at JSC in April.
Spring Semester 2019:
Fast forward to January 2019 4 months before we travel to Johnson Space Center to test our design. By now are team had shrunk down to about 8 core members and several periphery help-when-they-can members. We were thankful for all the help we could get. We could not get the previous year’s project to run properly on the HoloLens and it dramatically slowed our progress. We also were having issues with the .NET framework. Our new features required the 4.0 version while certain features required the legacy and unfortunately they are not backward compatible. This was a recurring theme the entire project. If you have seen my post on mistakes beginners make in Unity, this is one of the inspirations.
JSC only allowed 5 members of a team to be inside of JSC at a time and so my 4 teams members and I flew out to Houston at the end of April, stressed, because we had not finished our design. Despite not being finished we still managed to have fun in Houston, we even went to the beach!
First Us-ie Official CU representation Everyone (U Michigan brought a lot of peeps)
They took us to Rocket Park to get a photo of all the participants that were able to travel as well as individual team photos. As you can see the teams came from all over: Harvard, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, U of Michigan, and U of Idaho, to name a few. We then went off and presented our design concepts in a Q&A style to the other teams.
Middle of Week:
I’m going to be honest, the middle of the week kind of blurs together but I do know we sat/gave a lot of presentations and had a lot of tours of the campus.
Our advisor/astronaut, Colonel Jim Voss
The last 3 days were comprised of test days! The night before test days we were up until 2AM trying to get the final components working which was our EMG (electromyograph). The EMG was the most innovative and unique part of our design and was the most impressive idea our team brought to the design challenge. We tested our design in the actual Space Vehicle Mock up Facility where there were actually astronauts also running procedures and tests. So it as close to the real deal as you can get. Matt (not shown) and Daren were our day one and two testers, respectively.
Test day one frustrations and the night before 2AM success Tester Daren trying out the design Daren giving us notes on how to improve design Daren with the full rig including the EMG Daren Tweeted US! The Harvard team with their tester
The last day of test week we all did a boardroom style presentation. Our guest were some Microsoft execs and the head of space suits design at JSC and the technical lead at JSC. Kind of a big deal. Each team gave a presentation of how test week went, our unique design ideas and what our future plans are for our UI design. This is where we were told that our EMG implementation with the HoloLens was the most unique periphery device that really stood out from the rest of the teams. It felt good to know that despite our other failures, this success was a big deal.
Below is an EMG and its designer
The Dream Team!
Conclusions and Lessons Learned:
I learned a lot about myself during this process. I learned the value of communications and how important that is in a team. I learned how to push myself. I learned how to ask for help. I learned how to be an effective leader. I also learned how to fail, but failure is a weird phenomenon when pushing myself to the limit. When we got back from test week I was extremely sad, angry and disappointed in myself about all the features we couldn’t implement and all the things we could have done better. I was so stressed out for two semesters thinking about what I wasn’t doing, I didn’t take a chance to look back at what all I had done. I don’t think I would have started this blog had it not been for the SUITS experience. I don’t think I would still be in school had it not been for the SUITS experience. There are so many opportunities and pieces of knowledge I have gained from this that despite being an absolute train wreck for most of 2019, now toward the end I am finally, in retrospect, seeing the benefits of the hard work I and my teammates put in to make this project possible. This year the 2020 challenge is focusing on the Artemis missions to the moon. I am planning on being more involved this spring but I will not be going back to JSC or taking on any type of leadership role. I have been focusing my efforts more on personal projects and am trying to turn my experience into a project that I love. I am so grateful for this opportunity and the doors it has opened and I cannot express the inner growth that came from it.
Alrighty, That’s a post 8 months in the making. I actually don’t have a selfie for this post. But if you are interested in more, please subscribe to my email marketing and be sure to follow me on my socials linked below. And if you have any more questions or comments feel free to ask me via Instagram. I would love to hear about your interest in NASA SUITS.