NASA to send 3D Google smartphones for robots to space station

MOUNTAIN VIEW Calif. Mon Jul 7, 2014 8:50pm IST

Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) Beacon / Beacon Tester are shown floating in zero-gravity in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station in this October 26, 2008 NASA handout photo released to Reuters July 3, 2014. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters

Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) Beacon / Beacon Tester are shown floating in zero-gravity in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station in this October 26, 2008 NASA handout photo released to Reuters July 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/NASA/Handout via Reuters

Related Topics

Stocks

   

MOUNTAIN VIEW Calif. (Reuters) - 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.

NASA plans to use the handsets to beef up its Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, which could eventually take over daily chores for astronauts or even handle risky duties outside of the vessel.

The phones, part of Google's Project Tango augmented reality initiative, will be aboard a cargo spacecraft scheduled to launch on July 11.

Inspired by a scene from the movie Star Wars where Luke Skywalker spars with a hovering globe, the soccer-ball sized robots can be guided around the space station's microgravity interior, propelled by tiny blasts of CO2 at about an inch per second.

When NASA sent its SPHERES to the space station in 2006 they were capable of precise movement but little else. In 2010, engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, looked 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 bought phones at Best Buy and altered them by adding extra batteries and a shatter-proof displays before sending the handsets to the space station, where astronauts used Velcro to attach them to the side of the SPHERES. That gave the robots a wealth of new sensing and visual capabilities - but still not enough to move around the station as easily as the engineers wanted.

Looking to improve the robots, NASA recently turned to the experimental smartphones Google created to encourage innovation in its push for consumer mobile devices that can make sense of space as easily as people do.

The Project Tango handsets include a motion-tracking camera and an infrared depth sensor similar to Microsoft's Kinect add-on for the Xbox. The sensors will 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.”

NASA's phones have been split open so that the touchscreen and sensors face outward when mounted on the robots. They also include space-tested batteries and plastic connectors to replace the Velcro.

Google wants the technology showcased by Project Tango to become ubiquitous, helping retailers create detailed 3D representations of their shops and letting gamers make their homes into virtual battlegrounds.

It also teamed up with LG recently to launch a Project Tango tablet to encourage developers to experiment with its features.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Ken Wills)

FILED UNDER:
Photo

After wave of QE, onus shifts to leaders to boost economy

DAVOS, Switzerland - Central banks have done their best to rescue the world economy by printing money and politicians must now act fast to enact structural reforms and pro-investment policies to boost growth, central bankers said on Saturday.

Obama In India

Reuters Showcase

Australian Open

Australian Open

Serena avenges French Open loss to reach quarter-finals.  Full Article 

Miss Universe

Miss Universe

Miss Colombia is crowned Miss Universe for 2015.  Full Article 

SAG Awards

SAG Awards

'Birdman' wins top honor from actors in march toward Oscars.  Full Article 

Banking Revolution

Banking Revolution

India turns to corner shops, mobile phones for banking revolution.  Full Article 

Climate Change

Climate Change

U.S.-China climate deal does not put pressure on India, says Modi  Full Article 

Bangladesh Politics

Bangladesh Politics

Bangladesh charges opposition chief with instigating attack on bus  Full Article 

Box Office

Box Office

Eastwood's "American Sniper" continues as U.S. box office juggernaut   Full Article 

Boko Haram Fight

Boko Haram Fight

Nigeria repels suspected Boko Haram attack on Maiduguri city  Full Article 

Akshay Kumar's Latest

Akshay Kumar's Latest

"Baby" is a smartly written, well-acted film  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage