Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Prototype NASA Education Applications Are A Hit With Students

NASA recently visited two schools to demonstrate prototype versions of four unique education and outreach applications: Train R2, Drive R2, International Space Station Fly Thru, and PlaySpace. These applications were designed to engage students in fun learning activities based on current and future NASA technology through the use of familiar gaming technology. NASA asked these 4th through 8th grade students to share their opinions about the prototypes, as well as offer suggestions for improvements and future applications.

For the Train R2 application, the students learned to control a simulated Robonaut 2 (R2) using simple poses with the Kinect sensor for Xbox 360*. Each student was presented with a series of graphical images of a posed R2. Then, she or he would control the simulated R2 onscreen by using natural body motion. The object was to match as many R2 positions as possible in one minute. At the end of the simulation, a score was given based on how many poses were matched correctly.

The students with the top 15 scores were invited back to use a second application: Drive R2. Drive R2 allowed students to remotely operate the real R2, located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Using experience gained during the Train R2 activity, students were challenged to demonstrate a pose from a preselected set of positions. Once the student performed a pose correctly, the data was sent to R2 and students were able to view, via webcam, the robot move into that position.

Students were also given the opportunity to experience life as an astronaut in space, through the International Space Station Fly Thru application. This application incorporates real engineering data, photographs and audio into a realistic graphical representation of the space station. Students could then use their own body movements to virtually explore the space station and learn about several of its modules.

The PlaySpace application, developed with real NASA surface data from robotic missions to Mars, allowed students to fly over a graphical representation of the Martian surface. They were also able to experience the difference in gravity between Earth and Mars by jumping and watching how high their avatars were able to jump on the Martian surface.

So what did the student testers think of NASA's four prototypes? Their response was overwhelmingly positive. NASA plans to expand the current series of applications and to continue exploring the possibilities of using emerging gaming technology to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow through leveraging familiar and dynamic technologies such as these.

The applications were co-developed by Johnson Space Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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