Looks like smartphones can already be used on outer space; but not for playing games or sending text messages. NASA will now be using Google smartphones with the latest 3D sensing technology and install them into robots.
The robots, or SPHERES as NASA calls them, are soccer-ball sized machines that are used by astronauts to perform autonomous maneuvers within the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts use SPHERES to navigate and conduct checkups inside and outside the station to avoid risking themselves.
This time around, the robots will get an upgrade. Engineers on NASA decided to install customized smartphones from Google to the SPHERES which will serve as its eyes and ears.
?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. Let?s just use smarthpones,? Smart SPHERES project manager Chris Provencher said in an interview with Reuters last week.
The phones used are from Google?s Project Tango, a program to help people understand the concept of space and motion. These next-generation phones include a motion-tracking camera and an infrared depth sensor, same as the one used on Microsoft?s Kinect Xbox add-on. They were originally designed by Google for users to create a detailed 3D illustration of a room or shop. On the other hand, NASA plans to use them to create a 3D map of the space station by detecting sharp angles.
Of course, these phones were customized by NASA. The engineers split open the Google smartphones so the touchscreen and sensors face outward when mounted to the SPHERES. They also used space-tested batteries and plastic connectors to replace the Velcro straps, which were previously used on the old model of the SPHERES.
The new SPHERE models with the smartphones will be aboard a cargo space aircraft that will be launched on July 11.
Image Source: NASA