Human Centered Design Group

Hi! The Human Centered Design Group is part of the Operations Laboratory(Ops Lab) at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Our mission is to create natural user interfaces in support of NASA space exploration missions. We also conduct future research to create new modes of human-robotic interaction.


Future Robotic Interfaces

Robotic spacecraft will play a critical role in the future of space exploration. Increasing the efficiency of their operation will allow for a more rapid exploration of the solar system. Efficiency is inherently limited by the time delay induced by the distance between operator and spacecraft. Traditional control systems become unpredictable and unresponsive in the presence of time delay. Our system decreases perceived time delay by allowing the user to control the spacecraft at a predicted future state. By predicting and displaying a range of expected future states, safe operation is possible within the modeled uncertainty of the spacecrafts' behavior. Work includes the RAPID, a Default-Tolerant Networking protocol.

Controlling Space Missions

Curiosity is a multi-billion dollar robot pushing the forefront of human knowledge on another planet. We can’t physically repair the robot, so we must rely on software to operate the robot safely and efficiently. The time delay of sending signals millions of miles makes realtime operations impossible; instead we must plan ahead and send up a large batch of commands once per day. Additionally, the robot is a large and complex creature with data and power limitations as well as many instruments, not all of which can be operated in parallel with each other. The Curiosity mission operations interface combines image browsing, high-level planning and low-level commanding and validation all in one tightly-integrated tool.

Earth Science Data Processing

Earth science gives us a way to better understand our planet and its short and long term changes. By generating hypotheses and creating models, we can improve our ability to predict natural disasters, respond more effectively to current changes, and build our knowledge about the complex interactions between atmosphere, vegetation, ice sheets, volcanic activity, tectonic activity, soil moisture, and many other components of our environment. The Human Centered Design Group is developing a system in which Earth science data processing workflows are run in a cloud computing environment, with a web-based interface for managing, creating, and monitoring the computational processes. Our goal is to decrease total processing time, significantly lower the barriers to participation, and provide a common platform for collaboration.

Deep Space Communication

The Deep Space Network (DSN) is the worldwide antenna array that NASA uses to communicate with all active space missions. Network operators have to manage every bit from every space mission 24x7x365 through the 15 antennae. The Human Centered Design group develops the system that allows operators to manage this extraordinary flow of data.

Partners in NASA Outreach

Working with the Mars Outreach team at NASA, we have created a suite of interactive 3D experiences for the public (starting with the Spirit MER rover and extending to the Curiosity MSL rover and beyond). Partnering with Microsoft Studios, we have released the first NASA console game for free on Xbox Live: Mars Rover Landing

Multi-disciplinary Data Visualization

We bring together computation, interaction and visual communication to investigate the Universe. The data to discovery symposium data to discover symposium is one outlet for this trans-disciplinary collaboration.


Scott Davidoff

Dr. Scott Davidoff manages Human Centered Design for Mission Operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. As principal investigator for NASA’s Space Networking and Mission Automation program, he leads design and development of JPL’s next-gen robot and spacecraft controls. As principal investigator of JPL’s Data-to-Discovery program, he leads efforts to create new ways to interrogate and interact with planetary scale datasets. Dr. Davidoff serves on steering committees for the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Association for Computing Machinery. Across his over 18 years of experience, he has introduced numerous lightweight prototyping methods that have become industry standard software practice. Dr. Davidoff has a Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction, an MS in Computer Science (research), and an M.HCI in Human-Computer Interaction (practice), all from Carnegie Mellon.

Alexandra Holloway

Alexandra Holloway, Ph. D. designs interactive user experiences for space missions in the Human Centered Design Group (397F), specializing in user-centered design research. Alexandra’s work with operators of the Deep Space Network led to the design of micro-displays as data-driven mental model realignment tools. Previously to JPL, Alexandra taught human-computer interaction at Mills College and computer organization (architecture) at University of California, Santa Cruz.

Krys Blackwood

Krys has been designing interfaces for 25 years. Most of her career was spent in the Silicon Valley, designing e-commerce experiences for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. She is both a researcher and a designer and specializes in helping companies adopt a user centered approach. She's been at JPL since 2015, and is currently the lead human centered designer for the Deep Space Network and Europa Clipper missions. Krys will never let you forget that she fights for the user.

Work with us

The Operations Lab creates the software that is used to command all JPL spacecraft (like Curiosity rover), ranging from desktop to AR and VR systems. The Human Centered Design (HCD) group researches, designs, prototypes and develops the ways users interact with these systems.

Full Time and Internship Opportunities

If you’re interested, please send us a resume. Include a 1-paragraph summary of your experience, and goals at JPL. Much of our work is on active space flight missions, so unfortunately we can only work with US nationals.

User Research

HCD Group User Researchers direct efforts to ground development in observation and evidence. User researchers define critical unknowns, and develop plans to study, interpret and document user needs.

Interaction Design

HCD Group Interaction Designers direct efforts to evaluate and translate user needs into actionable insights and system capabilities. They rapidly prototype and evaluate paper and software prototypes, and simulation and role play.


HCD Group Visualization Developers direct efforts to create software that allows scientists and engineers to move, parse, analyze, interact with, and share discoveries with the massive data NASA instruments and spacecraft generate every day. They build systems that merge alien landscapes with ambiguous sensor data, create new kinds of interactive maps, and express complex robotic controls in compact visual language.

Keep exploring!