NASA teams up with Google for smart space robots
NASA has collaborated with Google to increase the efficiency of its space robots. Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center is sending Google smartphones with next-generation 3D-sensing technology to outer space for increasing the capabilities of flying SPHERE robots. The smartphones powered by Google’s Project Tango are fixed onto the ball-shaped hovering robots to increase their functionality. The volleyball-sized free-flying robots, known as SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental satellites) are designed to act as mobile assistant for the astronauts at the International Space Station.
NASA has been using SPHERES since 2006 at the ISS which were only capable of precise movements and nothing more. In an effort to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors; the researchers turned to smartphones. They bought phones from Best Buy and shipped them to the International space station where astronauts attached them to the side of the SPHERES using Velcro. It surely increased the visual and sensing capabilities of the robots but the astronauts wanted more flexibility with the SPHERES.
Therefore to further improve the robots, NASA took the help of Google smartphones and their 3D-sensing technology. The 3D cameras of Google’s latest smartphones will provide the handset with a better understanding of space and motion. It also comes with an integrated custom 3-D sensor, which will allow the device to track its own position and orientation in real time and it is also capable of generating a full 3-D model of the surroundings. The smartphones powered by Google’s Project Tango were launched into the space on 11 July to replace the older ones.