Google are no stranger to launching things into space. One NASA probe sent into orbit is still powered by a Nexus One smartphone. Their latest virtual mapping service, Project Tango, is now safely aboard the International Space Station.
The Orbital Sciences’ resupply mission has delivered two Google smartphones produced by Project Tango. These cutting edge smart phones are packed full of sensors that can map 3D space and environment in real time. Once the astronauts have mapped the environment by carrying the Project Tango smartphones around the station, it will create a hugely detailed 3D map of the interior of the spacecraft.
The data will then be used by two soccer ball sized Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) to navigate around the space craft autonomously.
“Inside the ISS space is limited, so it’s really exciting to see technology has advanced enough for us to demonstrate the use of small, mobile robots to enhance future exploration missions.” Smart SPHERES project lead Chris Provencher
These SPHERES have been used on the ISS since 2006, powered by various devices over the years. For instance, in 2011 a vision based navigation system developed by Google was tested, all using a Nexus S. However the two new Project Tango phones will vastly improve their capability, adding cameras with depth perception and motion tracking.
This can be vitally important given that instructions from ground control can be delayed several seconds. The hope is that future robot SPHERES will be able to carry out satellite maintenance as well as performing tasks such as keeping an eye on air quality and performing safety checks
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