NASA and Google develop floating robots

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

SPHERES
Google’s upgrades should make NASA’s SPHERE bots extremely swift and responsive.

Aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are three bowling-ball-sized robots known as SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites). They were directly modeled after similar gadgets seen in Star Wars, but now the tiny bots are getting really outdated. This is why NASA is teaming up with Google to give them a much-needed makeover.

Currently, the tiny bots are able to float about the work area and assist astronauts during scientific experiments. However, they rely on relatively primitive tech to maneuver about, using ultrasound (sound waves too high-pitched for humans) and infrared light (heat waves) to feel their way around. Oh yeah, and the bots get their energy from AA batteries (if that’s not ancient, I don’t know what is). Overall, the SPHERE bots still get the job done, but with Google’s high-tech smarts, the little guys can become super servants for the astronauts.

Google plans to replace the outdated ultrasound with their new 3D mapping technology known as Project Tango. The software is being integrated into Google’s latest smartphone, and NASA thought it would be just perfect to include the mobile device in the bots. The tech uses a combination of advanced sensors and a Kinect-like camera to create a 3D map at thousands of frames per second. Whoa!

NASA hopes the smartphone technology will make the SPHERES more independent and efficient helpers.

Images courtesy of NASA.