NASA Will Send 3D Google Smartphones to Help Research in Space

July 8, 2014

10:30 am

Even the robots in space need their smartphones.

NASA announced its plan to send to space Google smartphones with next-generation 3D sensing technology, “where they will become the brains and eyes of ball-shaped hovering robots on the International Space Station.”

Part of NASA’s plan is to use the phones to help its Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (also known as SPHERES), which will eventually take over daily chores for astronauts and handle risky duties outside of the vessel.

“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.”

Looking to improve the robots, NASA recently turned to the experimental smartphones Google created to encourage innovation known as The Project Tango. These handsets include a motion-tracking camera and an infrared depth sensor, which can detect sharp angles inside the space station and create a 3D map that lets the SPHERES navigate from one module to another.

“This type of capability is exactly what we need for a robot that’s going to do tasks anywhere inside the space station,” Provencher said. “It has to have a very robust navigation system.”

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Camila has been heavily active in South Florida’s tech startup community, where she is a co-host of a local radio show called pFunkcast. Camila previously worked at Greenpeace International and the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in various communication roles. A proud Brazilian who spent most of he life in Peru, she is passionate about traveling and documentaries.

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