HOUSTON. - 13 December 11
NASA Experiments with Hottest Toy in America: Intern Kinect's with Technology
By: Heather L. Ogletree
Glennoah Billie came to the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) from the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in New Mexico, a recognized tribal college, making him the third tribal college student to take part in USRP at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. Growing up on Navajo Nation Reservation, the dual computer engineering and computer science major always wanted to work for NASA, and through USRP, he got his chance.
Last summer, Billie joined NASA Mentor Helen Neighbors in the Human Interface Branch to take part in a project entitled “Complex human-machine interface using pressure gloves,” where he would develop and test a prototype for pressure gloves operated by a human-machine interface similar to the ones used for Robonaut. However, by the time Billie arrived, the project had changed. This is a common situation at NASA: projects continually evolve making the ability to be flexible an invaluable skill in the world of NASA. Instead of experiencing the human-machine interface of his original project, he was now focused on the machine side of the work.
“I was reassigned to a project called ‘Microsoft Kinect Evaluation,’” explained Billie. “The Microsoft Kinect Sensor is a fascinating piece of gaming equipment that has potentially endless applications. My project entailed dismantling the Kinect to learn both the hardware and software of this brilliant piece of ingenuity.” He also explored possible space exploration-based applications of Kinect’s sensor technology.
Being a sophomore, Billie had little experience with actual programming outside what he had seen in books at school. He noted, “I always had my nose in the book and never actually learned what I’ve learned until this internship.” Although this made the basics of the project a challenge, with some research and some help from his mentors, Billie was able to use and expand his programming skills in C++ to evaluate the newly released software development kit and its debug capability for Kinect so that future interns could begin programming applications for human interfaces with future spacecraft. From this experience with the Kinect hardware and SDK beta software, he gained technical acuity which is critical experience for computer engineers.
Billie also faced the common challenges of time constraints, web-accessibility and availability of required materials that many summer interns face since they have a short ten weeks to complete their tasks. However, these challenges helped to prepare Billie for the STEM workforce by teaching him time-management, flexibility and the professional self-confidence to have a successful future.
In the future, Billie hopes to obtain employment in New Mexico at the Sandia National Lab, Intel or at NASA. As for his time at NASA, he said, “It’s a good feeling to have people close to you though you’re miles away from home. My mentor, Helen Neighbors, has done an amazing job keeping me busy in stuff that I’m interested in.” Hopefully, Billie will take this message back to his university, back to his reservation, and encourage other Native American students to pursue STEM education.