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Special Butterfly Effect

A feasibility study on multi-mission autonomy testbeds using a combination of
UX Research & Engineering Research methods.

WINNER

NASA JPL Team Award

Mobility & Robotics Section
September 2020

Autonomy Testbed Award

OVERVIEW

This is a research paper that investigates the potential likelihood of "common core" elements existing across autonomy testbeds and to see if it's possible to standardize the design approach without sacrificing performance or efficacy.

ABOUT

Designed For
Sector
Skills
Timeframe
Tools
Team

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
Center for Autonomy
UX research, data synthesis, product strategy
August - September 2020
Video conferencing tool, Slack, Google Suite, MURAL
John Day, R. Davis Born, Ashish Goel, Emma Kalayjian,
So Young Kim-Castet, Hari Nayar, Cristina Sorice, Kristopher Wehage

No two testbeds are
the same.

Mars Helicopter
Mars Rovers.jpeg
Ocean World Lander Autonomy Testbed (OWLAT)
ASTERIA CubeSat Before Launch

Images courtesy of NASA/JPL - Caltech.

PROBLEM

Every single flight project is truly one of a kind. Complete with their own specialized requirements, they are sometimes lovingly referred to as, "special butterflies". When a flight project is constructed, usually the autonomy testbeds will also be equally custom built to fully satisfy each specialized requirement of that project.

This design approach leads to costly and time consuming development efforts that are completely effective for the project at hand, but questionable for anything else.

QUESTIONS

What components, if any, do all autonomy testbeds share?

If there are any core components discovered, is there a way to standardize them so that development costs and schedules may be reduced with no impact to efficacy?

TIMELINE

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Week 1

Planning

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Weeks 2+3

Collecting input

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Weeks 4+5

Collating & organizing data

MY PART

Persona Development

Interview Question Formulation

User/Stakeholder Interviews

Survey Formulation

Workshop Hosting

Data Synthesis

Scheduling + Logistics

Documentation

Paper Writing

RESEARCH

47

Total Stakeholders

60%

Response Rate

4-45

Years of Autonomy Experience

SURVEY + INTERVIEW TOPICS

Previous Autonomy Experience

Questions about specific autonomy testbeds that interviewees have architected, designed, developed, or used.

Future of Autonomy Testbeds

Meant to capture the interviewee's perspective and vision for the future capabilities of autonomy testbeds.

Images intentionally distorted as a data protection measure. Courtesy of NASA/JPL - Caltech.

INSIGHTS

Technical

A single testbed is likely infeasible.

Technologies at different TRLs have different needs.

Verification & validation for autonomous flight systems will have unique considerations.

Social

There should be a stable team with dedicated funding.

Continuity of expertise will set up projects for success.

Changes to institutional culture could encourage continued success.

DESIGN STRATEGY

Thoughtful design is key in order to maximize accessibility across various use cases.

The testbed must be modular in its design, where software modules and components can be swapped in and out through standardized interfaces to enable sustained use of the testbeds by multiple users. It is recommended that further research focuses on the following core areas:

Plug & Play Infrastructure

A standardized UI that promotes familiarity and ease of use.

Modularity

A modular architecture that allows sub-components to freely make changes without concern for impacting the overall infrastructure.

Remote Accessibility

An approachable framework that enables the implementation of testing infrastructure and serves a large number of users simultaneously.

FUTURE WORK

This paper provided necessary context with further guidance and instructions for what categories would need to be further researched in order to achieve this proposed design model. It is suggested that further research in performance requirements, UX/UI, and information management be conducted in order to specify the scope even further.

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