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Montreal team wins NASA competition for astronaut smartwatch app design

NASASmartwatch Two Canadians – Jocelyn Richard, a mechanical engineer, and Ignacio Calvo, an industrial and UX designer – have won a crowdsourcing design competition staged on Freelance.com by NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI) to develop an Astronaut Smartwatch App, selected from a total of 1,535 submissions received from over 81 countries.

The contest brief outlined NASA’s interest in leveraging smartphone technology “to create a smartwatch app that could be helpful to astronauts. The challenge is to design the general user interface for smart watch applications for use on the International Space Station.”

The design, using Samsung Gear S hardware for reference, demanded a usable interface that could give astronauts information such as an agenda timeline, colour coded cautions and warnings, communication status, and timers to help direct astronaut attention to particular tasks and remind them of length of time until the next task.

“It’s really awesome that NASA would open its design process, regardless of the outcome,” said Richard. “Winning seems both incredible and rewarding; I’m really, really happy if our concept helps NASA in its great endeavours. To be honest, I’d like to keep working on the app: go past the concept stage and fully flesh it out, prototype it to research and iterate with users, driving it from a nice idea to a real, efficient tool!”

One of the viewers of submissions was Internet Godfather and Google VP Vint Cerf, well known for developing the TCP/IP protocol that still powers the Internet.

Although the winning idea was conceptualized by a user called “betafind”, who took inspiration from Matt Damon’s problems communicating with Earth in the Ridley Scott film The Martian, the final app design was done by Richard and Calvo.

The design tournaments sponsored by NASA have been going on over the past two months using the Freelancer.com platform, with a total of 277 entries received from India, 127 from the U.S., 123 from Bangladesh, 100 from Romania, and 56 from Pakistan.

“We are honored to welcome NASA to the 16.7 million strong user Freelancer.com community, helping to create technologies and ideas that will be used for space exploration now and in the future,” said Freelancer.com CEO Matt Barrie. “We are overwhelmed by the great response of our users, the media and other stakeholders.”

The contests resulted in over 110,000 hits to NASA’s landing page on Freelancer.com over the past two months.

Although the winning team from Montreal didn’t expect to win, they entered both to add to their portfolio and because they are “passionate about space exploration and were looking for a side project to practice new tools and ideas.”

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