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NASA's space robots are getting Google smartphones

The Project Tango devices would allow the robots to sense sharp angles inside the space station and create a 3D map that would allow them to navigate the space station.

The SPHERES floating on board the International Space Station.
The SPHERES floating on board the International Space Station.
Image: Nasa

NASA IS EQUIPPING its robots with Google’s next-generation sensing technology to help them navigate the interior of the International Space Station (ISS).

The Project Tango devices could allow NASA’s robots – called Synchronised Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) – to help perform tasks inside the space station that astronauts usually handle or even handle risky duties outside the vessel.

According to Reuters, the space agency plans to include the Project Tango smartphones in a cargo spacecraft scheduled to launch on 11 July.

The football sized robot balls were originally brought up to ISS back in 2006 where they were only capable of precise movement. They are guided around the station’s microgravity interior, and use tiny blasts of CO2 to propel it at about an inch per second.

Giving them the technology developed by Project Tango, which includes a motion-tracking camera and an infra-red depth sensor, the robots will be able to sense sharp angles inside the space station and create a 3D map that allows them to navigate from one module to another.

“We wanted to add communications, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors” Smart SPHERES product manager Chris Provencher told Reuters. “As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realised the answer was in our hands… Let’s just use smartphones.”

At its developer conference Google I/O, the company announced that it’s working on a consumer version of its tablet which it will release next year.

Read: Weak smartphone demand haunts Samsung as profits continue to fall >

Read: PCs are still outselling tablets (but not for long) >

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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