Remember Project Tango, Google’s new 3D mapping project for smartphones? The system automatically measures the space around a user, providing them with a detailed 3D map of the environment. The system will now be used to help space robots move in any possible direction, thereby assisting humans in space. NASA announced this collaboration with Google, where Google will help NASA’s SPHERES robots on board the International Space Station (ISS).
The SPHERES (pictured above) will probably not fit the picture of the average robot. While the old-skool, classic robots are basically human-shaped, the SPHERES look like footballs, which are produced in different colors. Despite of looking very colorful, the robots have one big disadvantage: they have a hard time navigating the space station, as they simply aren’t human beings. On a basic level, they are able to navigate the space around them, but they can’t properly detect objects in the space station. Objects however are basically what the inside of a space station is about.
Google’s group Advance Technology and Projects (ATAP) could help them improving the system. They have come up with Project Tango, a system that enables users to walk around a room with a smartphone, while mapping the space around them. A motion tracking camera and a depth sensor automatically measure the size and shape of the room, whilst making a quarter million 3D measurements every second. For instance, if you would take a little stroll through your living room, it would help the phone to create a 3D map of your house.
Or: it would enable robots to fly through space. Right now, SPHERES robots are already being used to move objects during scientific test. In addition, they are also being used to experiment with ways for the robots to help astronauts with emergency repairs as well as basic serving. The plan however is to enlarge the moving space of the robots, even enabling them to leave the ISS and fly through space in order to inspect the outside of the station. Google’s new smartphone project is chosen by NASA to make it happen for the robots. In other words: Google might help robots fly around space stations. Sounds spacey, isn’t it?
Here’s a video of the brand new collaboration:
Image credits: NASA.