Public Release: 

IBM, NASA collaborate to support Mars exploration rovers

IBM Watson Research Center

San Jose, Calif. (June 3, 2002) -- IBM today announced a research collaboration that will help NASA scientists analyze tele-robotic data during the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover (MER) expeditions.

Inspired by a project called "BlueBoard" created at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., NASA is developing "MERBoards" to allow mission scientists and engineers to display, capture, annotate and share information via large interactive displays. The software that facilitates this collaboration operates on a large standalone plasma display with a resistive touch screen and also runs in a user's personal computing environment. The board includes a PC with a web browser and custom workspace application for data and file sharing.

"Given the enormous amount of training and specialization already required for the participants in the rover missions, we needed an interactive collaboration tool that the rover teams could easily use after only 10 minutes of training," said Jay Trimble, a scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. "This work at IBM Research on collaboration via interactive displays provided us with the design inspiration that led to our proposal for the MERboard as a mission enhancement."

Incorporating IBM's design and extending it for the domain of Mars Surface Operations, the MERBoards will provide the capability to view data, share it on multiple displays in different locations, sketch and make annotations, and distribute that data to individual team members and groups. It will also enable scientists and engineers to support the team's work-practice of developing scientific hypotheses and related rover activity and observation requests. Developed at Ames for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., the MERBoard functionality was based on observations of JPL's mission operations team conducting rover field tests. JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rover mission. The MERBoards will enhance mission operations processes by providing a new tool to support the collaborative process - one that works with JPL's mission software tools.

"The goal of our BlueBoard project is to increase productivity by integrating simple and easy-to-grasp functions that support fast encounters and spontaneous meetings," said Daniel Russell, senior manager of the User Sciences and Experience Research group at IBM's Almaden Research Center. "This work with NASA Ames is supplementing our own user research and providing us with valuable insight into user-centered design and the BlueBoard project."

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The collaboration was announced today at IBM's sixth annual Make IT Easy conference, which is being held June 3-6 at IBM's Almaden Research Center. The conference includes workshops, tutorials, presentations, papers and exhibits on simplicity and ease of use in computing.

For more information about the conference, please visit: http://www-3.ibm.com/ibm/easy/eou_ext.nsf/Publish/743

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