GuiGuru(TM) will provide guidance and advice to developers of software used by
astronauts to monitor and control space-based scientific experiments
SAN MATEO, Calif., Mar. 29, 2005 – In an effort to make the software used by scientists on the International Space Station (ISS) more “astronaut friendly,” NASA has awarded Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. (www.stottlerhenke.com) a contract valued at $600,000 to create GuiGuru(TM), an AI-based software development tool that helps programmers build software that’s easy and intuitive for astronauts to use to monitor and control space-based scientific experiments.
“Astronauts’ time is precious, so it’s unacceptable to have them struggle with poorly designed user interfaces that waste their time and increase the chance of error,” said Richard Stottler, president of Stottler Henke Associates. “There are many different scientific experiments aboard the International Space Station, and numerous software applications for controlling these experiments need to be developed quickly. GuiGuru will help the ‘payload developers’ building these programs create user interfaces that conform to good UI design principles and organizational UI standards and conventions.”
An early version of GuiGuru has undergone usability testing on-site at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The response to this preliminary version has been positive. “We’re excited, and we’re getting a favorable reception from the display developers, too,” said Mihriban Whitmore, manager of NASA’s Human Engineering Integration Team, the NASA point of contact for GuiGuru. “This software will not only be an in-house tool, it will also be put to good use in the ISS payloads domain by remote payload developers.”
GuiGuru is an “intelligent” application development tool, one of the highly specialized areas of artificial intelligence (AI) software in which Stottler Henke has developed its reputation over the past 15 years. Stottler Henke envisions commercializing GuiGuru as a development aid for software that automates procedural tasks in which users follow required or stereotypical sequences of steps, such as the operation and maintenance of computer-controlled equipment.
An expert over your shoulder
For a software developer, working with GuiGuru is like having a panel of interface design experts looking over her shoulder. The tool helps create the skeleton of the GUI as a set of displays; each display supports a subset of the application’s tasks. GuiGuru helps the developer to complete the GUI by selecting software GUI components (widgets), adding each to a display, configuring them, and tying the widgets and displays to the “back-end” portions of the software application. Then GuiGuru’s built-in “software critics” critique different aspects of the GUI. Each “critic” represents a single kind of interface knowledge, applying what it “learned” during the early stages of the application building process. Finally, GuiGuru automates usability testing of the interface before the entire application has been completed.
GuiGuru applies knowledge of the task to be supported by the software application, as well as knowledge of the task domain, to advise the software designer on GUI design issues and critique the GUI design. “One of the things that we like about the tool is that it encourages everybody to think about the tasks first, before starting to build the display,” commented NASA’s Whitmore. This aspect is especially appealing to NASA’s human factors personnel because all too often developers start work on an application interface without ever considering what the user will actually be trying to do.
For example, during the course of development for a new payload display, the developer would start out by entering a flow chart model of the payload maintenance procedure. The developer would then start work on the display itself, and GuiGuru would automatically process the task information to make recommendations about interface structure, which widgets to use, and widget placement. It would also take advantage of the information encoded in the flow chart to automatically complete many of the GUI definition tasks, such as setting button names and associating labels with fields. It would then consider the resulting GUI as a whole, and suggest ways in which it might be better. It might suggest that the developer tone down the coloration in part of the display, to avoid straining the end user’s eyes; or alter the clustering of properties in the data-entry display to reflect their logical groupings.
The contract to develop GuiGuru is an SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Phase II award, funded by the NASA Human Factors group at Johnson Space Center.
Founded in 1988, Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. applies artificial intelligence and other advanced software technologies to solve problems that defy solution using traditional approaches. The company delivers intelligent software solutions for education and training, planning and scheduling, knowledge management and discovery, decision support, and software development. Stottler Henke’s clients include manufacturers, retailers, educational media companies and government agencies. Stottler Henke received a 2004 “Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning” award for innovative technology, and was named one of the “top 100” companies making a significant impact on the military training industry in 2003 and 2004 by Military Training Technology magazine.
Mar. 29, 2005