One of the new projects by Google is the prototype smartphone that is crammed with sensors, which enable it to sense and then learn the world around it. Project Tango will undoubtedly be used in many different ways, but the guys over at NASA are going to get their hands on the prototype sooner than others as the prototype is heading up to the International Space Station.

The upcoming Orbital 2 mission that will take supplies to the ISS, is scheduled to launch in May and when it leaves earth it will be taking with it two of the Tango phones.

The phones will be used as part of a robot development project currently undertaken by NASA.  The project is developing robots, which hopefully will be able to fly around the inside or outside of the ISS, or even be used in NASA’s planned mission to land on an asteroid.

Project Tango To Go To ISS

NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley is the place where the current robot research work is taking place. NASA has allowed a small group of reporters to visit the lab recently and view some of the work.

Project Tango, which is currently only being supplied to a limited number of developers was unveiled by Google approximately one month ago. The phone can build up a 3D model of its surroundings by using several cameras and infrared range-finding technology.

Google has somewhat already showcased the capabilities of the project; they can build a detailed map of the interior of an office/home.  NASA wants to take the capabilities a great deal further though. At the Ames Research Centre scientists have attached a Tango handset to a robot development platform called a ‘Smart Sphere.’ Each Sphere (an 18-sided polyhedron) is approximately the size of a soccer ball and it is also self-powered. The ‘Sphere’ is able to fly around the inside of the ISS because it uses carbon dioxide-powered thrusters.

The Smart Spheres have been successfully used in developing autonomous equipment already. NASA has conducted a Smart Sphere test with a Nexus S smartphone as part of a Shuttle mission (STS-135) back in 2011.  NASA wants to use the Tango phones as they promise more capabilities. There are currently three Spheres units on the ISS.

Andres Martinez, Spheres Manager at NASA said,  “We are researching how effective Project Tango’s vision-based navigation capabilities are for performing localization and navigation of a mobile free flyer on ISS…Specifically, we are researching how well the 3-D modelling and visual odometry can be used to let the [Spheres] free flyer learn its environment and manoeuvre through it based on what it sees…This is in contrast to the current Spheres localization system, which relies on fixed sensors in the environment to help the Spheres track its position.” said Martinez.

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[Image via dvice]