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Astronauts to Test Free-Flying 'housekeeper' Robots


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Rosie, the Jetsons' robot housekeeper.

NASA hopes that three bowling ball-size, free-flying Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) that have been flying inside the International Space Station eventually will be used to perform housekeeping tasks.

Credit: Hanna-Barbera Productions

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Ames Research Center has sent two Google prototype Project Tango smartphones to the International Space Station via Orbital Sciences' commercial resupply mission. Astronauts will manually use the smartphones to collect visual data with the integrated custom three-dimensional (3D) sensor to generate a full 3D model of their environment.

The second part of the experiment will involve connecting the smartphones to the three bowling ball-size, free-flying Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) that have been flying inside the orbital laboratory since 2006. The satellites provide a testbed for research and development, each having its own power, propulsion, computer, navigation equipment, and physical and electrical connections for hardware and sensors for various experiments. The smartphones will turn the satellites into Smart SPHERES that will provide situational awareness to crew members inside the station and flight controllers in mission control.

NASA is testing vision-based navigation in a very small mobile product, but researchers ultimately want to use the devices to perform housekeeping tasks such as configurations audits to offset some of the work astronauts perform.

"It's really exciting to see technology has advanced enough for us to demonstrate the use of small, mobile robots to enhance future exploration missions," says NASA's Chris Provencher.

From NASA Ames Research Center
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