The 2016 NASA International Space Apps Challenge in New York City (NYC) was Laura Doyle’s first Space Apps, and you’d better bet she’ll be back for the competition in 2017!
At the young age of ten, Laura is the CFO, or Chief Fun Officer, for ISSIE: International Space Station Interesting Exercise. “The goal of ISSIE is to make exercise more fun for astronauts -- and us too!” says Laura’s dad, Mike Doyle, a technology manager based in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.
The idea for ISSIE started at Space Apps 2015 in NYC, where Mike lived at the time. He describes his first Space Apps experience as “life-changing… wonderful! I felt like I’d gone to Hogwarts!”
My first Space Apps experience was life-changing… wonderful! I felt like I’d gone to Hogwarts!Mike Doyle, ISSIE Co-Founder
Mike’s 2015 team worked on an asteroid visualization app to raise public awareness about the commercial opportunities of asteroid exploration, as well as the risks. He couldn’t wait to return to Space Apps the following year with an idea for his own project!
Space Apps 2015 coincided with rising interests and activities supporting NASA’s plan for human exploration of Mars. Mike wondered what could be done to help NASA send humans to Mars safely— in particular, protecting astronauts from the hazardous effects of zero gravity on their bodies through persistent exercise.
Mike shared his thoughts with then nine-year-old Laura. When Laura heard that astronauts in space are required to exercise for 2.5 hours a day, she felt that was way too long to endure. She thought for a moment and said, “Exercise + fun.” And thus, the concept for ISSIE was born!
At Space Apps 2015, Mike had heard about the HoloLens, a wearable, self-contained holographic computer developed by Microsoft. When he found out that the device was to be taken to the International Space Station, he thought that it might be a great tool to allow astronauts to do their exercise and at the same time have fun doing it!
Mike definitely wanted to take a HoloLens to Space Apps 2016, and by happy chance, Microsoft announced the release of a developer edition of HoloLens that February! The ISSIE team held a crowd-funding campaign to fund the purchase of the device. “We got our application for the HoloLens in within minutes,” laments Mike, but unfortunately, they still didn’t get one to take to Space Apps 2016.
Despite being without the key component to their idea, Mike, Laura, and the seven members of the ISSIE team took their project to Space Apps NYC in April 2016. The team originally planned to connect a bike to a gaming module they were developing, When the bike was too big to bring to the hackathon, they pivoted to using an aerobic step setup to interact with their game.
In their augmented reality game, every up and down on the step would register a little impulse in a virtual reality spaceship’s engines. The user would thus power the spaceship to collect “aliens,” crafted by an artist they had recruited. “It was really a bubblegum and bailing wire version,” laughs Mike.
In the end, the team’s ingenuity paid off! They won two local awards at Space Apps NYC and advanced to the global judging round, where NASA picked them as a Top-25 project out of 164 nominees in the People's Choice category. “We had lots of support from my friends at school in the voting,” says Laura. Team ISSIE earned the distinction of being #11 in the global People’s Choice field.
ISSIE’s plans didn’t stop after Space Apps 2016! ISSIE started building on the HoloLens at the SFVR Holographic Hackathon in San Francisco that June. At the event, Mike pulled together a team that crafted a new game that did not require any equipment to power the game with exercise. The game, Multiverse Rescue, won an Honorable Mention for the Use of Spatial Sound. Mike even got to meet the Microsoft engineer who was the first person to wear a HoloLens in zero gravity!
ISSIE’s next target was to bring their game to the World Maker Faire in New York, which they had been attending for seven years as audience members to get inspiration. This was to be the public debut of Multiverse Rescue. Team ISSIE spent countless hours working to improve the game and integrate an exercise bike, as they had wanted to do at Space Apps 2016.
At the World Maker Faire, more than 140 people tried ISSIE’s game and exercised— riding the bike, doing squats and aerobic steps, etc. “In the game, each exercise powers a transporter that is trying to rescue aliens,” explains Mike. Laura, who has a Presidential Fitness Award, placed second out of all the participants!
ISSIE’s game sparked the interest of many different kinds of people: an Ironman triathlete, a gymnastics instructor, and a lot of people who really didn’t exercise much at all. “If I had this, I would probably exercise more” was a comment the team heard a lot. “That was one of the things that really highlighted one of the Space Apps themes,” says Mike. “We’re doing work designed for up in space, but it also has benefits down here on Earth, too!”
You can read more about ISSIE’s experience at the World Maker Faire in this feature on Wareable.com.
[Our public demo] was one of the things that really highlighted one of the Space Apps themes. We’re doing work designed for up in space, but it also has benefits down here on Earth, too!Mike Doyle
In November 2016, after the Maker Faire, Laura and Mike traveled to Washington, DC, to bring their product to NASA Headquarters. “We visited NASA HQ to share ISSIE progress with the Space Apps crew,” says Mike, while Laura adds: “We had SO much fun!” Officials from the NASA Space Apps Global Organizing Team enjoyed taking turns trying out the game with the HoloLens and exercising.
Team ISSIE also brought their game to the NYC HoloLens Developers Meetup, in February 2017, where Mike gave a talk called ISSIE: HoloLens Workouts for Astronauts and Earthlings.
For this year’s Space Apps 2017, the Doyles are organizing a bi-coastal ISSIE team. Mike will attend in Seattle, while Laura really wants to be at the Mainstage in NYC, the site of her success in 2016.
Laura explains why she really wants to return to Space Apps: “I got to learn so many things at Space Apps 2016, like programming in C#, how to hook up hardware to software, and also how to create drawings of the aliens for the game.”
She adds, “The competition made me think more about reaching my goals... helping astronauts... things I’ve always wanted to do. I also learned how to manage a team!”
I got to learn so many things at Space Apps 2016, like programming in C#, how to hook up hardware to software[...]. The competition made me think more about reaching my goals— helping astronauts— things I’ve always wanted to do. I also learned how to manage a team!Laura Doyle, ISSIE's Chief Fun Officer
“We’ve gotten some input from real astronauts on our ideas,” reveals Mike. “That’s helped in guiding where we want our game to go. We realized that one of the things that astronauts miss in space is the sound of natural space and natural things, and the feeling of being outdoors.”
With many of us spending significant amounts of time indoors, at work or at school, it’s a feeling we can likely relate to, even here on Spaceship Earth!