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Google's Project Tango headed to International Space Station

Martyn Williams | March 21, 2014
The prototype smartphone will be used to help develop autonomous flying robots

There are already three Spheres units on the ISS.

Hearing that researchers are working toward a robot that would autonomously fly around the inside and possibly outside of the ISS carrying out checks, Bolden asked if the same technology could be put to use on NASA's planned asteroid mission. The space agency wants to approach and capture a piece of an asteroid, and Bolden wondered if the work could form the base of a robot that could approach, analyze and help identify a target for the mission.

That could be so, said Provencher.

Researchers hit upon the idea of using smartphones in their development work when they realized the features they wanted -- Wi-Fi, a camera, more processing power -- were all present in an off-the-shelf device.

The phones in use by NASA have had several minor modifications. The lithium-ion battery pack has been removed, the phone is powered by six AA batteries and the cellular radio chip has also been removed to put it into "the ultimate airplane mode," said Provencher. A cover has also been put over the screen to contain pieces of glass should it be shattered.

(Additional reporting by Melissa Aparicio in San Francisco.)

 

 

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