Google has partnered with NASA to deliver its handheld 3D mapping technology for use on the International Space Station.
Project Tango, which was launched two months ago, is an Android smartphone that includes a variety of 3D sensors that aid in mapping its environment.
On the ISS, a 5-inch Tango-compatible smartphone will be connected to one of NASA’s SPHERES – bowling-ball sized, coloured satellites that float around the ISS and aid astronauts – greatly upgrading its autonomous navigation capabilities.
As it stands, the SPHERES can perform basic navigation inside only a limited section of the ISS by using ultrasound and infrared light, but Tango’s more detailed detection methods, will let the SPHERES explore more of the station and navigate entirely on their own.
“This is no ordinary upgrade,” Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in a statement. “We’ve customised cutting-edge commercial technologies to help us answer questions like: How can robots help humans live and work in space? What will happen when humans explore other worlds with robots by their side? Can we make this happen sooner, rather than later?”
Google and NASA have already conducted tests to see how SPHERES and Tango behave in a zero-gravity environment. The partnership began last summer, and a Tango smartphone should be sent up later this year.
A YouTube video, below, explains the project in more detail.