We live in an exciting time of significant technological advancements. Many ideas that once seemed like a distant future are becoming a reality, like traveling to space. And you could raise the question, "What has an HMI agency from the automotive industry in common with space exploration?" The truth is that these two industries share more than meets the eye. In this article, we will explore the history of cross-field learning, the prospects, and the importance of user-centered design once space opens to more people. So let's dive right in.
So what exactly has automotive in common with space industry?
Although it may seem unexpected, the automotive and space industries share many technological advancements. NASA's contributions have left an indelible mark on the automotive industry and will continue to shape the future of self-driving vehicles. Among the notable innovations that found their way to our cars are tire pressure gauges, electronic stability control systems, or more ergonomic seats.
On the other hand, the automotive sector also brings a lot to the table with its innovation mindset driven by the constant push for better performance and efficiency. Thanks to robust engineering, rapid prototyping, and efficient manufacturing processes, the automotive industry provides expertise and addresses the unique challenges of space technology and exploration.
Apart from technology and hardware, we can find shared similarities also in the design processes and values. Both industries operate under strict regulations, high standards, and quality assurance protocols to ensure the reliability and safety of vehicles. At the same time, design thinking and a human-centered approach provide a reliable way to keep the user in mind all the time while driving both industries forward.
Current developments in space industry
Long-term efforts of NASA, Virgin Galactic, and other companies to open space and make it more accessible grabbed our attention here in Kontrolka a while ago. We love the idea of more people being able to experience such a life-changing moment as looking down on the planet Earth from orbit. Thanks to NASA's support, private companies already started to develop a strong low-Earth orbit economy where they lead the way. With these efforts, the low-Earth orbit will be a great place for services like training astronauts or running experiments for deep space explorations.
With the commercialization in the space sector, companies work towards systems that cost less to launch and land. They gain essential knowledge on building destination systems that last a long time. And as a result, it brings incredible value for space explorations and also other fields like medicine, biology, chemistry, or meteorology. All types of companies and organizations can come together and work on their research, production, or other things in commercial space stations.
Of course, with space becoming more accessible, the growth of the space travel industry is inevitable. Companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures, and many others are on their mission, successfully racing to open space to everyone. And there is a large market of people with the money they would spend on coming to space and spending a week or more in a space hotel.
It has been a long and bumpy road to commercial operation in space. However, it already brings the first fruits. Virgin Galactic completed what is expected to be their final test flight before taking their customers on the crazy adventure of trips to space, marking a significant milestone. Another project on a successful trajectory is Blue Origin's and Sierra Space's development of a full-fledged commercial space station called the Orbital Reef. The project passed a key design review and is expected to be operational by 2027.
New space age
The future will undoubtedly see a significant shift in the space industry from a strong engineering focus to more human experience. People with only short training will be able to travel to space with various motivations. And their tasks will differ a lot from the regular work of professional astronauts. So with that, a new range of needs will certainly emerge. What will be the next challenges the new space age brings?
Besides physical difficulties such as nausea and muscle loss while floating in zero-G, mental problems can pose even greater challenges. Cognitive overload, loss of situational awareness, or high-stress levels can be fatal in space. Carefully designed systems, interfaces, and interactions with their users in mind can help minimize all these negative impacts.
Our take on design for space
As space tourism becomes a reality, would you fly to space? What an incredible experience it must be! Some astronauts report experiences described as the overview effect. While viewing the Earth from space, you can encounter a cognitive shift, "a state of awe with self-transcendent qualities." It must be a lot to process.
We see people in space go through a rollercoaster of different emotions. Therefore human-centered design focused on emotions is crucial in reducing cognitive load and distress, generating positive moments and memorable experiences that resonate with space travelers. In this regard, ESA's work and the design of a floating robotic assistant inspired us. Having an artificial intelligence helper that can provide emotional support was so exciting that we decided to explore our approach to the topic, trying to push the boundaries of its design.
Making the experience of space as comfortable and enjoyable as possible is essential. However, as the space travel industry grows, what is happening outside the spacecraft becomes equally vital. In the automotive world, we consider the whole customer's journey from the initial needs and discovery phase to buying a car and then driving it to its last day. Also, space travel experiences need to be shaped holistically, from discovering the possibilities and becoming interested in space flight through learning about it, buying the ticket, and preparing for the flight to the final day and launch to space. And what happens after you return to Earth and leave the spaceship?
As we enter a new era, the future of space exploration will rely on collaboration, user-centered design, and the integration of diverse expertise. We, as designers, leverage our knowledge and enhance user interfaces by making them intuitive, understandable, and visually appealing. By applying human-centered design principles, we understand and prioritize the needs and limitations of space travelers, transforming them into designs tailored to specific contexts.
Let's create delightful experiences for outer space together!
Kontrolka is a young team of HMI experts who strive to push user experience to its limits by developing innovative solutions for tomorrow's technology. We inspire and motivate our clients to achieve success.