NASA Is Taking Google 3D Smartphones To Space

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Google’s 3D smartphones will soon become the “brains and eyes” of NASA robots aboard International Space Station. The space agency will send these smartphones in a cargo spacecraft that will launch on Friday, July 11. NASA said it will use Google’s 3D sensing technology to beef up its SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) robots.

Google devices could help robots perform daily chores for astronauts

The SPHERES robots are expected to eventually perform daily chores for astronauts. The 3D smartphones are part of Google’s Project Tango initiative. NASA’s soccer-ball sized robots can move around the ISS’ microgravity interior at about one inch per second. The agency first sent SPHERES robots to the space station in 2006. NASA used these robots to test the spacecraft while performing unmanned maneuvers. However, they were not of much use besides precise movement.

Chris Provencher, project manager for Smart SPHERES told Reuters that NASA wanted to add several capabilities to the robot including accelerometers, communication, camera, better processing capacity, and other sensors. They decided to use smartphones. They purchased smartphones, modified them to add scratch-proof displays and extra battery capacity, and sent these handset to the space station.

Google’s 3D smartphone is what NASA precisely needed

Astronauts attached these modified phones to the sides of SPHERES using Velcro. It gave the robots several visual and sensing capabilities. But they still couldn’t meet the engineers’ expectations. Then NASA turned to Google’s experimental 3D smartphones, which could make sense of space as easily as humans. The Project Tango devices sport an infra-red depth sensor and a motion-tracking camera.

These sensors will help SPHERES robots detect sharp angles inside the ISS and create a 3D map that will allow the robots to navigate from one module to another. That’s exactly what NASA was looking for, said Chris Provencher. The devices have been split open to let the sensors and touchscreen face outward when fixed on the robots. They also have plastic connectors and space-tested batteries.

Recently, Google joined hands with LG Electronics Inc. (KRX:066570) (OTCMKTS:LGEAF) to launch a 3D tablet.

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