USC Students Compete in Augmented Reality NASA SUITS Challenge – USC Viterbi

Lead Developer Spencer Lin oversees a visitor to Space Center Houston as they test the SENVA application

Lead developer Spencer Lin oversees a visitor to Space Center Houston as they test the SENVA application. PHOTO/TEAM AEGIS.

A virtual environment can be used to explore everything from a Costa Rican rainforest to a proposed new school building. Now, a new NASA program hopes to apply augmented reality (AR) to space exploration — with the help of some college students. A recent challenge published by NASA’s Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students (SUITS), launched in 2017, tasked students with designing and creating spacesuit information displays that share vital signs, location, and more in augmented reality environments.

USC’s and University of Arizona’s “Team Aegis” was one of the 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 applications through the Unity game engine. For an astronaut exploring the moon, the user-friendly interface would share crucial information, such as tracking the astronaut and rover’s location, and vital signs such as heart rate and oxygen levels.

Team Aegis and his advisors in the VIP section overlooking the original control room for the Apollo missions at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.  Front row (left to right): Andy Artze, Sophia Aguilar, Zoë Wilbur, Darlene Villicaña, Dr.  Garrett Reisman, Professor David Barnhart, Will Farhat Second row: Spencer Lin, Rohan Shukla, Bas Rizk, Stanley Lin, Akshita Swaminathan, Jennifer Lee, Evan Cooper, Isaac Ward PHOTO/TEAM AEGIS.

Team Aegis and his advisors in the VIP section overlooking the original control room for the Apollo missions at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Front row (left to right): Andy Artze, Sophia Aguilar, Zoë Wilbur, Darlene Villicaña, Dr. Garrett Reisman, Professor David Barnhart, Will Farhat
Second Row: Spencer Lin, Rohan Shukla, Bas Rizk, Stanley Lin, Akshita Swaminathan, Jennifer Lee, Evan Cooper, Isaac Ward
PHOTO/TEAM AEGIS.

The last SUITS event took place at the end of May in the historic NASA Johnson Space Center Rock Yard in Houston, Texas. NASA leaders evaluated how well student technologies have solved key problems in space, replicating lunar conditions. Students were not only allowed to test their designs, but were also able to visit labs in the Space Center.

Said Evan Cooper, master student USC Viterbi in the Aerospace Engineering Department and project leader: “The weekend was absolutely wonderful. Being able to test our design in the exact place where NASA is testing the technology that will take humanity to the moon and beyond is humbling. While the game itself was the culmination of a year of hard work, for me it was much more rewarding to see the effect it had on our team. From visiting the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a testing facility filled with a massive pool in which astronauts train for microgravity, to standing next to the Saturn V, to hearing industry leaders, the word I heard most was “surreal.” †

Founded by Darlene Villicaña, a USC master’s student of visual anthropology who researched extravehicular interfaces, Team Aegis started as a group of 11 students. By December 2021, after the proposal was accepted by the NASA SUITS program, the team quickly grew to more than 60 students from multiple disciplines and experience levels. Advised by USC Viterbi Professors David Barnhart and Garrett Reisman — as well as assistant professor Jessica Barnes of the University of Arizona — the students created an ambitious set of goals, a schedule, and smaller teams that could work together to achieve milestones.

During the final test, teams had to accurately guide the user in real time between multiple planned and unplanned locations, assist crew members with navigation and visualization, and interact with the suit’s designated telemetry stream. Teams also had to include a user-friendly interface that displayed all necessary information to crew members.

“There was no real ‘winner,’ but the result of the NASA head and engineering team is that our group handled all the major issues and challenges very well,” Barnhart said. “NASA leaders strongly recommend applying for next year’s challenge.”

Team Aegis is under one of the only two Falcon 9 boosters in the world previously used in multiple missions to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

Team Aegis is under one of the only two Falcon 9 boosters on display in the world. PHOTO/DAVID BARNHART.

Villicaña said: “Our team approached the challenge from an interdisciplinary point of view. We have a team of passionate students from aerospace engineering, computer science, geology and anthropology who have creatively applied different methodologies to tackle the engineering problem.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the challenge and ability to translate core concepts learned in the classroom into practical experience makes it a valuable learning resource for students engaged in aerospace engineering. So much so that Barnhart hopes to translate the experience into a classroom this fall and allow more students to interact and prepare for next spring’s challenge.

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 reel video. I think this was a very valuable experience for our students and I certainly hope we do it again next year.”

The challenge comes to Artemis, NASA’s mission to land American astronauts on the moon. To support this goal, it is essential that crew members are equipped with the right human autonomy technologies that provide essential real-time information.

“NASA SUITS was a unique and invaluable experience that gave us the opportunity to tackle a real-world technical problem, collaborate with experts at the top of their field who are actively working on these issues and technologies, and give us access to provided to NASA’s planetary analog testing site and the opportunity to work on future technologies that are part of NASA’s Artemis program to develop augmented reality in space suit design,” Villicaña said. “We learned new skills, encouraged young minds to STEM through our outreach activities, working within a multidisciplinary team and making lifelong career connections and friendships.”

The Aegis team received support from USC Viterbi, the California Space Grant Consortium and the Arizona Space Grant Consortium

The full team, from USC and University of Arizona, includes: Evan Cooper (Project Lead), Darlene Villicana (Deputy Project Lead, HITL & User Research Lead), Spencer Lin (Lead Developer, UI/UX Lead), Andres Artze (Systems Engineering Lead), Basem Ibrahim Mikhail Rizk (Machine Learning Lead), Isaac Ward (Co-Lead Terrain Meshing), Will Farhat (Co-Lead Terrain Meshing), Jennifer Lee (Co-Lead Navigation), Sophia Aguilar (Co-Lead Navigation) , Akshita Swaminathan (co-lead telemetry), Rohan Shukla (co-lead telemetry), Zoe Wilbur (co-lead geology), Patrick O’Brien (co-lead geology), Stanley Lin (lead 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 Ku lhari, 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

Published on July 1, 2022

Last updated on July 1, 2022

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