Current Event: NASA to send 3D Google smartphones for robots to space station

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Google smartphones with next-generation 3D sensing technology are about to blast into orbit, where they will become the brains and eyes of ball-shaped hovering robots on the International Space Station.

In order to improve their Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES), NASA plans to use handsets, which could ideally take over the astronauts’ daily chores, as well as handle dangerous tasks outside of the vessel.

In 2006, when NASA originally sent its SPHERES to the station, their performance was limited: aside from precise movement, they were not capable of much else. Four years later, in 2010, engineers at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, began looking for ways to make the devices smarter.

“We wanted to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors. As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realized the answer was in our hands,” Smart SPHERES project manager Chris Provencher told Reuters in an interview last week. “Let’s just use smartphones.”

They began by purchasing phones at Best Buy, which they then altered with extra batteries and shatterproof displays. Although these phones, attached to the SPHERES with Velcro, added new sensing and visual features, they were still a work in progress. So, NASA turned to Google’s experimental smartphones—a part of their Project Tango.

With the help of these experimental smartphones, the handsets have a motion-tracking camera and infrared depth sensors that detect sharp angles and create a 3D map that allow the SPHERES to navigate from one module to another within the station.

The Project Tango phones will be aboard a cargo spacecraft scheduled for July 11, 2014.

To read the full article by Noel Randewich, click here.

Post submitted by JoAnna 

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