Apps in Space Crowdsourcing Challenge

Published Dec-08-15

Breakthrough:
A novel smartwatch app design that could help save the lives of astronauts wins a NASA crowdsourcing challenge.

Company:
NASA, United States

The Story:

Apps in Space Crowdsourcing Challenge For many years now NASA has been reaching out to the crowd to help it come up with innovative designs and technologies. The space agency recognizes the power of engaging an interested group of people to help with space exploration challenges, cosmological research and to solve problems faced by astronauts. Its public facing contests are also a way of fostering wider interest in what it does.

Previous open innovation initiatives run by NASA have yielded a number of important innovations. Among them are an astronaut glove design concept, new propulsion technologies for a lunar lander and a cosmological image analysis program to measure the small distortion in galaxy images caused by dark matter.

Smartwatch Apps for Astronauts

In August 2015, the space brains yet again turned to the crowd. This time, it was a crowdsourcing challenge to design the best smartwatch application to help keep astronauts safer and better organized when on missions.

According to the challenge brief, the app had to have a number of features, such as the time and an easy way to display a crew's calendars and agendas for each day. Also required, was a way to send astronauts warnings and alerts if they are in danger. For example, if there’s a cloud of orbital debris about to come hurtling their way. Participants had to use the Samsung Gear 2 as a hardware reference for their novel designs.

The contest was organized by NASA's Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation and hosted on Freelancer.com. It ran for one month and during that time, hundreds of entries were submitted, each one showing mock-ups of how their apps would look and work.

Interstellar Glory

The winners were Jocelyn Richard, a mechanical engineer, and Ignacio Calvo, an industrial and UX designer, receiving a check for $1,500 for their efforts as well as “interstellar glory”.

Their elegant and unobtrusive watch design shows a crew timeline as well as cautions and warnings, communication status of vehicles and timers for International Space Station (ISS) procedures. Laptops and iPads are currently used by astronauts to display some of this information.

Future Development

It is not yet clear at the time of writing this piece whether NASA will actually make use of the winning design. However, it is looking at a number of wearable technologies and will be involving the crowd in some of the innovation processes.

Upon winning the competition, Jocelyn Richard said: "It's really awesome that NASA would open its design process, regardless of the outcome.

"To be honest, I'd like to keep working on the app: go past the concept stage and fully flesh it out, prototype it to research and iterate with users, driving it from a nice idea to a real, efficient tool."

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