MHCIxNASA: TALOS

A problem-solving framework that helps astronauts on deep space missions to diagnose and troubleshoot problems.

Timeline

January 2020 - August 2020
(8 months)

Project Context

MHCI Capstone Project, Carnegie Mellon University
Client: NASA Ames Research Center

My Role

Product Designer

Team

JT Aceron - Design Technologist
Aditi Magal - Product Designer
Katie McTigue - Product Designer
Megan Parisi - UX Research Lead

Situation

Space Exploration Is An Exciting Endeavor

The current goals of returning to the Moon and voyaging to Mars has heightened this excitement.

Problem

A Delay In Communications Increases Risk

Space exploration is also risky, especially when it involves new destinations and new spacecraft. Lives and missions are at stake.

A delay in communication is a major part of this risk. The length of delay increases with the distance traveled from Earth
(around 20 minutes one way to Mars).

Astronauts will not be able to rely on the 100+ specialists at a mission control center (MCC) as they currently do.

The Goal

Empower crew members to diagnose and solve critical problems with greater autonomy from a ground-based mission control center.

Our Process

We approached this question through a human-centered design process inspired by the Design Council’s double diamond framework.

The diverging phases encourage exploration and generation, while the converging phases lead to the definition of goals and solutions.

Amazing Research Opportunities!

Process highlights include:

  • A 3-day research visit at the Johnson Space Center in Houston
  • Interviews and testing sessions with 5 astronauts, and many subject matter experts
  • Discovery through analyzing analogous domains

Key Insights

Insight 1

Previous experience, stress, and physical effects can cause the crew to stray from best practices.

Insight 2

The current system relies heavily on a ground-based mission control center, which does not encourage astronauts to think critically.

Insight 3

The crew and the ground-based mission control have different mental models. Communication will still be important, even with a time delay.

Insight 4

Just-in-time training resources helps reduce the crew’s dependency on their memory of pre-flight training.

“We typically don’t train crew members currently for downstream implications.”
– Flight Controller
“You’re not just trying to figure out what’s gone wrong, you’re trying to figure out what’s the next worst thing that can happen.”
– Crew Member

Results

Introducing TALOS

A crew-centered problem-solving framework that enables crew members to:

  • gather and manage resources
  • create and thoughtfully execute a plan of action
  • easily communicate progress and actions with mission control

Used on a tablet or a laptop, TALOS has three main views:

  • Gathering Board
  • Planning Board
  • Split View

TALOS also allows crew members to work collaboratively on shared planning boards.

The Gathering Board: Collect your thoughts, images, and more.

TALOS will populate the Gathering Board with resources depending on the initial alerts of the anomaly to be diagnosed. These might be safing procedures, system schematic diagrams, recently captured audio or video files, and other helpful resources.

The crew member can resize and move any resources on the gathering board as they see fit. Crew members can also use a search bar to find and add additional resources, including procedures, schematics, telemetry, and personal notes.

The gathering board is a private workspace for the crew member. The resources gathered on the board are not sent to mission control.

“I’m thinking is this kind of like your notebook filled with sticky notes.”
– Crew Member

The Planning Board: Helping crew members plan together.

After gathering resources, the crew member can turn to the planning board to begin planning which actions to take. The planning board is automatically sent to mission control at regular intervals.

The planning board takes inspiration from the Kanban-style of project management, which uses flexible cards and columns to visualize workflow. It is designed to encourage the use of best practices and critical thinking.

“This is really what these cards do, they give you a bit of a mental model, both in functional space and time.”
– Crew Member

Split View:
Building a plan should be easy

The third system view is a split view. In this mode, crew members can simultaneously view the gathering board and planning board. In the split view, crew members can drag resources directly into cards, providing additional context for card information and actions.

This view allows the private information the crew member gathers on the gathering board to become a part of mission control’s mental model.

Snapshots:
Let's keep mission control in the loop.

TALOS facilitates situational awareness for mission control by automatically sending the crew’s planning board to mission control at regular intervals.

Crew members can also send an annotated snapshot of the planning board to mission control with a click or tap of the “Send” button.

Mission control can then respond with messages, resources, or even suggested cards, which appear as notifications. Crew members can then drag messages, suggested cards, and resources to cards on the planning board.

“The thing I like the most is exactly that – the ability to click a button and now the ground is getting information!”
– Crew Member

What I Learned

The path forward is shaped by needs.

I learned so much while working on this project, but the lesson that comes to mind first is the impact of relying on the validated needs of our users to work out how to move forward with our design.

There were a several moments where the team was uncertain on how to proceed. It was at these times that revisiting the needs we had validated during our evaluative research helped us to make the next breakthrough.

This underscored to me the value of discovering and validating the core needs of those who will eventually use a product.

Possible Next Steps

Taking TALOS to the next level

Scalability:
How well does TALOS work with a full-blown anomaly, and its host of complications?

Opportunities for better AI/ML integration:
The base workflow has a lot of potential for improvement with advancements in AI and ML.

Augmented Reality:
In addition to tablet and laptop modes, it would be interesting to explore an AR mode for TALOS.

Mission Control Center side of TALOS:
Our project focused on the crew side of TALOS. How would a MCC view of TALOS function?

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