Robots aboard the International Space Station will soon be equipped with depth sensing smartphones courtesy of Google. The space-ready handsets will be from the search giant’s Project Tango initiative that uses 3D image tracking technology to map their surroundings. The phones with hitch a ride on a cargo spacecraft scheduled to launch on July 11th and will be the eyes and ears of NASA’s Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES).

These new smartphones will be used to complete tasks outside of the space station normally performed by astronauts, which will hopefully eliminate unnecessary risks and allow people to focus on more engaging tasks that require human attention. About the size of a soccer ball, the robots will be pushed through space by small CO2 blasts at around an inch per second.

 

Back in 2006, engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center were challenged to find ways to make the SPHERES more helpful to their human counterparts. This need for improvement eventually led to Project Tango’s hardware becoming added to the platform.

“We wanted to add communication, a camera, increase the processing capability, accelerometers and other sensors. As we were scratching our heads thinking about what to do, we realized the answer was in our hands,” Smart SPHERES project manager Chris Provencher recently told Reuters. “Let’s just use smartphones.”

Google has been testing its depth tracking smartphone in zero gravity environments, so it’ll be interesting to see how the devices perform in a real-world scenario. In addition to its work with NASA, Google announced plans to release an LG-made Tango tablet for consumers sometime next year.

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