Sunday, July 13, 2014


Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) are the robots designed for eventual use on dangerous missions outside the ISS; oh, and daily chores as well. However how could these robots ever be expected to handle all this? After all, they are only robots. Easy. NASA plans on using Google’s 3D smartphones to give the robots sight and brains, everything else is taken care of.

It seems the space agency robots were just okay, able to complete precise motion only with the assistance of small jets of CO2, but now they can propel themselves forward. BUT NASA wanted more. They wanted to add a camera, some communication, and while they were at it some sensors and increase the robots processing capability. When considering what to do, they realized smartphones already did all that.

Phones were purchased at Best Buy and attached to the robots by the astronauts which gave them the sensing and visual capabilities NASA sought. BUT still, these new skills needed tweaking.

Google made further improvements to the robots by adding the 3D camera’s designed to enable the tracking of motion. Tango phones also come with an infrared depth sensor to assist in detecting the sharp angles in the space station and will also provide the needs for the development of a 3D map that will make it easier for the robots to travel from module to module.

Now to more practical issues. The phones come with space tested batteries and plastic connectors which be split open during the operation of sorts that will mount them on the robots, with the sensors facing outward.

These cool devices are arriving up at the ISS via the cargo mission that just launched. NASA is excited as the capabilities that will now be given to the robots will be more robust. From navigation to handling tasks both difficult and simple. After-all, Google is not just the internet browser anymore. From robotics, to autonomous cars, and casting an eye spaceward, it should come as no surprise that Google has made it to the space station.

The inspiration for the SPHERES? The droid of Star Wars fame.

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