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AirSpace, The Future of Air Space Control 

2020 MIT Reality Hack Winning Project

An AR tool for the air traffic controllers to work in a 3D space


AirSpace is an award-winning UX project that helps air traffic controllers to work in 3D space, intending to reduce cognitive workload, faster recognition, improve situational awareness, and foresee potential conflicts


HCI Design

Design Sprint

Problem framing 


Concept development


Testing & feedback

Implementation (Unity & Magic Leap)

Tech & Method


Adobe CS



Magic Leap


January 2020

5 days Hackathon

My Role

UX Design

UX Research 

Content Strategy

Branding Video

​Final Pitch


Air Traffic Control is one of the high-pressure jobs. Controllers view and monitor airplanes from takeoff to landing, guiding pilots along the path. Any error can be irreversible and fatal for the occupants.

Yet we barely pay attention to their mental health and struggles behind the scenes. 

Our challenge is to narrow down the scope and have a polished prototype in 5 days with the XR tools sponsored to us.


1.  Cognitive Overload & Decision Fatigue

Pilots and Air Controllers must make urgent decisions as precisely as possible, but they are mentally exhausted by processing the data.​

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Followed by Hick's Law, the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices. Seconds delay in response can cause a fatal collision. 


Due to manpower shortages and heavy traffic, controllers often work too long to stay focused. When their decision-making capacity is stretched to the maximum, this can lead to a precarious situation, "loss of the picture."

2.  Visual Bias & Misjudgement

2D radar interface makes it challenging to visualize how far planes are from each other since they fly in 3D.

Human visual bias can lead to severe air disasters.

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Current ARTCC Radar Interface 

3.  Miscommunication

A single miscommunication about altitude levels or runway numbers can have tragic consequences.

Research shows that pilots tend to switch to their mother tongues under pressure when the second delay in understanding can cause a fatal crash

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There are 14,000 air traffic controllers in the U.S. who deal with an average of 70,000 flights every day.”

                                                                     - National Air Traffic Controllers Association


  • Winner of the Volvo Future Mobility: UX and New Methods Challenge.

  • AirSpace was later showcased to the public and recognized by the Magic Leap Development Team for further collaborations.

  • MIT Reality Hack is by far the biggest XR hackathon event worldwide. In 2020, around 300 hackers from different countries formed over 60 teams in this event. 


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By conducting the secondary research on Day 2, I read and collected 15 past and current air traffic controllers and pilots' narratives. I intentionally built a female persona since most female controllers face more challenges in this male-dominated industry. 

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User's Goal: Nyla needs an intelligent interface to help her quickly identify potential issues on the night shift and efficiently communicate with her crew

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How might we use Virtual Reality to enhance Air Traffic Controllers' work experience and make faster and better decisions?


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Design a 3D interface that has at least two of the following core functions


  1.  Remove data chaos to simplify the decision-making process

  2.  Assist visual interface in 3D to minimize human visual bias 

  3.  Seamless communication between crew members with prompt responses 



1. Integrate Boston Logan Airport from Google Maps; use colors and shapes to give visual emphasis to important flight data.

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2. Place 3D airports on flat surfaces, and bring one airplane to life.

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3. Add multiple flights. We had issues with animations not scaling correctly in Unity.

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4. Add 3D graphics and labels to represent projected flight details in AR. We had difficulties detecting flat surfaces using plane detection for airport placement in the real world. 

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5. The final solution in Unity shows a 3D airport, multi-aircrafts, and flight data generated in AR graphics, offering a real-time 3D visualization from an air controller’s perspective.


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  • Interactive Flight Management - Adding the ability for air traffic controllers to issue commands directly in the interface.

  • The next version of this project acquires more realistic data, improves interaction techniques, and integrates visualization with conflict detection and resolution algorithms. 

  • Air Control stations will require less labor force when adopting tech automation systems with high precision through the interactive gestural interface, gaze-tracking capabilities, and voice commands. 


  • Leverage virtual reality to compensate for human visual and cognitive bias, showing our blindspot in the complex system.

  • Use machine automation to ease human workload with improved decision-making.

  • Train future pilots, controllers, and troops with 3D stimulation. 

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