We wanted to develop a program that would give people an easy way to find out whether anything interesting will be happening in the sky tonight, and whether the sky will be clear enough for them to see it.
The Exeter Team decided to start off on a simple use case - we'd show ISS over-flights for a location and combine that with weather forecast information to produce a prediction of whether or not the ISS would be visible.
The designers on the team worked on sketching out the front-end and the user interactions while the developers concentrated on the back-end. Once the back-end code was ready some developers started to work on iOS and Android apps.
The prototype back-end code uses the Unofficial Heavens Above API to pull predicted ISS overflights for the specified location . It pulls forecast data for the same location from the Met Office DataPoint. It has to do some processing on the weather types because we're interested in quite broad conditions (cloudy, partially cloudy, clear), but the forecast has many more types of weather. It merges these together to produce an XML list of events. A demonstration web site is available at: http://www.adamretter.org.uk/spaceapps/space.xql. Documentation is available at https://github.com/MetOfficeSpaceApps/PredictTheSky/blob/master/backend/README.md
The design team started by brainstorming ideas for the user interface and key interactions by sketcking out ideas together on a flip chart and sketch pad. We decided we were looking at three main user tasks
After checking these with the dev team, we made a more detailed paper-prototype so we could do some quick corridor user-testing. Thanks to the all the members of the other teams - and the jazz band - for being such willing participants.
As a result of the feedback from testing we decided to change the focus of the home screen. The app would highlight the next cool space event which the skies would be clear enough to see. The original version told you something was happening even if the sky was going to be cloudy. This got us much closer to the true USP of our app - a mashup of space event and weather data.
Here's the final prototype in action. We stuck the prototype to a smartphone with sticky tac to make the interaction more realistic for testers:
After talking through the prototype with the team, we unfortunately had to drop the use-case "3. Could I see anything if I went somewhere else" from the prototype apps, but it's something we definitely want in the app eventually.
Things were all still looking pretty basic. Confident we had a good interaction model for the app, we got together with the iOS and Android developers on the team for a bit of collaborative design. We wanted some glossy graphics and a slick look and feel. We sourced some great weather icons from iconbest, and found photos of the space phenomena - the ISS, Hubble Telescope, aurorae and meteor showers - from NASAimages.org and Flickr. We then created a quick mockup in Fireworks and handed over to the app developers to code through the night to turn our ideas into working reality.
A touch icon and project logo added the finishing touches to a couple of great apps.
As we had both an iOS and Android developer on the team, and another developer in Oxford was working on a mobile web app, we decided to create a native app for each platform. The developers collaborated on the design during the day, and coded through the night to build functional versions of the apps. Both apps comprise lightweight views showing your Next Clear Sky Event, and a list of key upcoming events with the expected cloud cover conditions, with application logic handled by the API.
Here are the two apps in action, at around 11am on the Sunday:
We're trying to get more events into the feed - we'd like to get ISS data for more days, but there's some problems with their web interface that's making that difficult. We're also working on meteor showers and aurorae.
NASA Space Apps Challenge Exeter 21-22 April 2012
All photos NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org unless otherwise stated
Aurora photo by Billy Idle via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/58122391@N03/
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0
Weather icons from IconBest http://iconbest.com