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NASA To Use Google's 3D Augmented Reality Technology For Space Robots

Update Date: Jul 09, 2014 08:53 AM EDT

Google smartphones equipping next-generation 3D sensing technology are about to blast into orbit, according to a report by Reuters. These smartphones will become the brains and eyes of ball-shaped hovering robots on the International Space Station. 

The robots are known as Spheres (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental satellites) and currently they have limited capabilities. NASA hopes to equip these robots with more functionality with the smartphones powered by Google's Project Tango. 

The phones will be aboard a cargo spacecraft scheduled to launch on July 11, Reuters reported. 

Experts described the robots as "incredibly clever". 

"We wanted to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors," Spheres project manager Chris Provencher told Reuters.

"As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realized the answer was in our hands. Let's just use smartphones."

The Project Tango handsets include a motion-tracking camera and an infrared depth sensor similar to Microsoft's Kinect add-on for the Xbox. The equipping sensors would detect sharp angles inside the space station creating a 3D map that lets the SPHERES navigate from one module to another, Reuters wrote. 

"This type of capability is exactly what we need for a robot that's going to do tasks anywhere inside the space station," Provencher said. "It has to have a very robust navigation system."

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