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NASA Jet Propulsion Lab: Controlling ATHLETE with 3D Virtual-Holographic Workstation

Date: Summer 2012
Disciplines: Human Computer Interaction, Visualization, Graphics, Robotics, Human Factors
Technologies Used: zSpace 3D display and control system, Unity, Javascript, C++ inverse kinematics ATHLETE code, Simulation
Team: This was my project within the Human Interfaces Group, which Charles Goddard collaborated on. User testing managed by Sabrina Billinghurst. Artist/design support from Alex Lu/Chris Phillips. Advised by Heather Justice, Dr. Scott Davidoff, Alex Menzies, and Victor Luo.

NASA's All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE) has six limbs, each of which have 6 degrees of freedom (DOF). Thus the robot has 36 DOF total and controlling such high-DOF robots using conventional input modalities can be quite challenging for rover operators. To create a more effective, natural way of controlling and visualizing ATHLETE and other high DOF robots, I created an application for zSpace, a workstation with a 3D stereoscopic display, a tracked 6 DOF stylus, and head tracking.

Using the Unity game engine, my project allows rover operators to select and control ATHLETE's end effector using the zSpace stylus. I've integrated NASA's ATHLETE inverse kinematics code so the robot can automatically track its end effector to the stylus. The user can also move his head around to get different views of the robot. I conducted user testing with real rover operators, who liked the system and were excited about getting this deployed for field tests. The team has since gone on to do more development of the project after my internship including integrating a Leap Motion as well (see video below) and using these systems to control the real ATHLETE robot remotely.

Please see report and video demo below for more details of the project.

As a side note, another fantastic opportunity I got to have at JPL was being there for the Curiosity Mars rover landing! I was fortunate enough to get to be right outside the Entry, Descent, and Landing War room to observe the event and witness the celebration of engineers who had worked for so many years to bring this extraordinary accomplishment to fruition. Truly one of the most memorable moments of my life to witness such historic progress in human technological achievement.

Video Demo


At JPL right after Curiosity landing

Paper (Authorized for public release)

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