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Exclusive: NASA recaps Project Tango-equipped Smart SPHERES, hints at next-generation of free-flying robots

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Exclusive: NASA recaps Project Tango-equipped Smart SPHERES, hints at next-generation of free-flying robots


Back in July of final yr, team participants aboard the International Space Station (ISS) won an overly unique payload of units from Google’s Advanced Technologies and Projects workforce. The prototype units, codenamed Project Tango, have been intended for NASA’s microsatellites, the SPHERES, which were accompanying the astronauts on their voyage across the planet due to the fact that 2006.

A just lately had the implausible luxurious of corresponding with Maria Alberty of the Ames Research Facility, the crowd inside of of NASA in price of overseeing the SPHERES and their experiments, with the purpose of revisiting Project Tango’s involvement with the SPHERES and including to the continuity of Talk Android’s reporting in this milestone.

Last yr, Talk Android’s Jared Peters and Jeff Causey had pronounced at the occasions top as much as the Google prototypes being brought to the ISS (which you'll be able to view here and here for a few nice again-tale), with Brendan Lynch turning in probably the most up to date article discussing Project Tango’s upcoming departure to the distance station. It used to be from their paintings and my very own private pastime that the majority of my wisdom of the entire Project Tango affair used to be derived.

It used to be now not sufficient. Poor Maria in point of fact needed to get me at the similar web page ahead of shall we even get started discussing Project Tango…

Maria to begin with guided me, lightly, in the course of the historical past of what SPHERES are and what they're after a tool, just like the Project Tango prototype, is introduced (dubbed “Smart” SPHERES).


The microsatellites referred to as SPHERES (an acronym for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) are, as NASA describes them, bowling-ball sized tools that supply a check-mattress for analysis and construction within the box of multi-frame formations, flying, multi-spacecraft regulate algorithms, and free-flying bodily and subject matter technology investigations. These satellites are used as a platform for those experiments within the distinctive setting presented within the ISS.

These SPHERES are, as Maria says, self-contained. They each and every have their very own devices of energy, propulsion techniques, fundamental computer systems, navigation apparatus, and adapters and ports that permit researchers to improve them to check particular investigations.

[SPHERES] are used within the area station to check a suite of smartly-outlined directions for spacecraft acting independent rendezvous and docking maneuvers. Basically SPHERES can act on my own, or with the addition of different hardware fixed to SPHERES act as a free-flying platform that may be able of accommodating various mounting options and mechanisms with a view to check and read about the bodily or mechanical homes of fabrics in microgravity.

It’s those adapters that allowed SPHERES to have their first style of being “Smart”. In 2011, at the ultimate flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, NASA rocketed up a Google Nexus O (designed through Samsung) to be plugged into the SPHERES. The Nexus O used to be the primary business phone to be authorized to be used and to fly aboard the ISS.

W.C. Wheeler, lead engineer in Ames’ Intelligent Robotics Group, stated at the time: “By connecting a telephone, we will be able to right away make SPHERES extra wise. With the telephone, the SPHERES could have a integrated digital camera to take footage and video, sensors to lend a hand behavior inspections, an impressive computing unit to make calculations, and a Wi-Fi connection that we will be able to use to switch knowledge in actual-time to the distance station and project regulate.”

Jumping in advance to the summer time of 2014, the Ames Research Facility created a brand new breed of Smart SPHERES via upgrading them with the Google Project Tango prototype.


As used to be coated within the media, researchers for the Project Tango-equipped Smart SPHERES set out with the objective of investigating the consequences of giving the SPHERES 3-dimensional consciousness by the use of the prototype’s 3-d sensor able of developing a 3-dimensional style of its setting.

Initially, NASA researchers had was hoping that the upgraded Smart SPHERES may pave the best way for a chain of duties that may be delegated out to the SPHERES. Mostly housework-sort duties, the researchers anticipated video surveys for protection audits, noise degree measurements, and air float and high quality checks, all of which will have to be automatically carried out by way of the ISS group participants.

While now not divulging particular experimental effects, each earlier or ongoing, of Project Tango’s involvement with the SPHERES, Maria did state that the present batch of Project Tango Smart SPHERES can be succeeded through next-generation free-flying robots.

The Project Tango test used to be the remaining check consultation of “Smart SPHERES”. During the previous 3 years, “Smart SPHERES” has supplied helpful engineering knowledge in regards to the use of a free-flying robotic at the Space Station. Based in this knowledge, NASA has began creating a next-generation free-flying robotic, with a purpose to be deployed in 2017-2018.

She went directly to reiterate that the following era of robots are a brand new venture of Ames, enforcing the information and analyses garnered from Smart SPHERES. These robots are nonetheless within the initial analysis segment.

So what may just the Ames Research Facility be cooking up subsequent? We’ll have to attend and notice, however Maria did point out that, up till this aspect, Google has now not had any involvement with Ames’ use of Project Tango.

For me, it’ll be a tricky years at the same time as A wait to peer what Ames assembles with the Smart SPHERES knowledge. In the interim, O’ll simply have to meet myself with all issues associated with the New Horizons spacecraft. What can A say, O love area-living robots!

Come remark in this article: Exclusive: NASA recaps Project Tango-equipped Smart SPHERES, hints at next-generation of free-flying robots


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