Designing an interface for remote-controlling a small lunar rover
With $79.5mill funding from NASA, Iris, a 2kg lunar rover, is expected to launch to the moon in 2021. As Image Viewer Lead, I was responsible for facilitating the birth of Image Viewer—a fourth of the interface that will be used to remote-control Iris.
Timeline
January - July 2019
Role
Image Viewer Lead
Team
Iris Rover TeleOps Design Team
The TeleOps Interface will house four modules, all used to drive Iris, track points of interest, and map and plan routes. Iris takes pictures as it moves, and these images are viewed by the surface ops team, who then judge how to maneuver the rover. The Image Viewer is the interface component that displays these images and assists this decision-making process.
Background Research
To better understand the problem space and mission operations, I read a book detailing Mars rover missions, attended lectures by Astrobotic's chairman, Red Whittaker, and studied the work done so far on Iris Rover mission operations.
Feature Prioritization
In addition to image editing, zooming and panning, we surmised that users should also be able to mark obstacles and points of interest that would also surface on the Shared Map.
Benchmarking
As there are no design patterns for lunar rover UIs, I looked into other image editing software for inspiration as the Image Viewer would have similar capabilities.
Design Explorations
By working closely with not only my teammates, but also the Systems Engineering Lead, Science Lead and front-end devs, we went through rapid iterations to clean up the interface and map out component behaviors.
Top: Each function = separate panel
Bottom-L: Combine Features and Groups
Bottom-R: Maximize image preview
Cosmos Design System
As our team grew and individual features gradually came to life, we built out Cosmos to ensure the interface was cohesive throughout. It also gave front-end the means to start building the interface.
Paper Missions
We simulated missions using Unreal Engine 3 and Blender to test parts of our designs. In the six months I’ve been a part of this project, we’ve only managed to crash the rover twice.
Final Designs
The Image Viewer is a component of the TeleOps interface that allows TeleOps to view images, mark and save points of interest, and make informed decisions on how to drive.
Final Thoughts
This project was challenging in that there were so many technical details and unique constraints I had to wrap my head around—no prior art, no access to users, Iris was being built so camera specs were TBA, etc. But it'll probably be one of the most interesting projects in my career. Can't wait to see this baby in action in 2021 🌙