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Students present capstone work at NASA JPL

June 30, 2017

HCDE team with NASA JPL sign
Students Jiewen Luo, Kimberly Ha, Michael Long, and Kexiang Xu at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California

In early June 2017, a team of Human Centered Design & Engineering undergraduates were flown to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, to present their innovative capstone project on virtual reality tools for mars exploration.

To the UX designers and developers on JPL’s virtual reality design team, HCDE students Jiewen Luo, Kimberly Ha, Kexiang Xu, and Michael Long presented roVR, a concept for a virtual reality analysis tool designed to support the Mars 2020 rover mission.

With roVR, robotics operators could navigate Mars in virtual reality, including walking around the surface of Mars, examining various types of data in context, and interacting with virtual objects using their hands. RoVR is designed to use an HTC Vive virtual reality headset with Leap Motion controllers for hand-tracking.

HCDE team presenting
roVR capstone team presenting at NASA JPL

Kimberly Ha presenting to the JPL VR Team
Student Kimberly Ha presenting to the JPL virtual reality team


Throughout their capstone process, the team conducted literature reviews and interviews with experts at JPL and at Hakuto (a Japanese team currently developing a rover to explore the Moon) to understand the processes, systems, collaboration, and constraints in space robotics. The students developed personas, context scenarios, and storyboards — generating requirements about data and functional elements to include in their design. They created initial prototypes of controls and displays with paper, and tested the prototypes with engineers at UW and at JPL.

Spearheaded by Nat Guy, Lead User Interface Developer at JPL’s Ops Lab and University of Washington alumnus, JPL joined HCDE’s Corporate Affiliates Program in 2016, and sponsored multiple graduate and undergraduate capstone projects over the year. Particularly impressed with roVR, Guy encouraged this team to bring their demo to Pasadena for the whole JPL virtual reality team to witness.

HCDE team with NASA JPL sign

Mark Zachry, HCDE Professor and instructor of the undergraduate capstone course, traveled with the team and was impressed with the students’ presentation, in addition to their work throughout the project. "The roVR team delivered a fabulous presentation of their UX work at JPL. The designers and developers who were there for the talk in Pasadena were clearly impressed by what the team had accomplished in a 10-week sprint," Zachry commented. “The team's demo impressed members of the JPL audience, several of whom put on the HTC VIVE headset to interact with the simulated rover on the surface of Mars."

While at JPL headquarters, the students and Professor Zachry were given a tour of the headquarters.

Professor Zachry with the students in VR headsets
Professor Zachry (right) with the students demoing VR headsets

HCDE team with a space rover
Students posing with NASA rover


The roVR team was one of five HCDE undergraduate teams that received Capstone Fund Awards from the College of Engineering in 2017. In addition to offsetting the cost of supplies for the project, the award helped purchase branded t-shirts for the team, and extras for their sponsors at JPL.