Flying a human into space is a really expensive task. But today’s technological advancements are creating robots that are getting smaller, cheaper and more capable, and the machines of course won’t be asking for air, water or food. That’s why NASA has been developing helper robots that can support and enhance the capabilities of humans for space missions.
They are currently testing robots called SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) which actually have been around since 2006. The robots, having the size of that of a bowling ball, utilize CO2 thrusters to fly around the International Space Station.
And no, it’s not just you. They look similar to the droid from Star Wars. MIT professor David Miller was inspired by the scene from the movie in which Luke Skywalker is trained by a droid.
In the early stages, scientists from NASA were doing experiments to ensure that the SPHERES were capable of getting around objects and flying in formation. Now, they are trying to expand the capabilities of the robots. For that purpose, they attach an Android-powered Samsung Nexus S onto the robot.
Once attached, the handset becomes the brain of the robot and will tell it where to go. The enhanced robot will conduct surveys and inspections of the space station’s interior with the built-in camera to capture photos and video, thereby giving the crew a lot more time to do other tasks such as editing their landing speech. And in the future, the robots can be utilized for tasks outside the station and other duties as well.
According to a NASA research engineer, they chose the Nexus S, as it is easy to take apart and because they are familiar with the Android platform which will help while making customizations. They have used AA alkaline batteries instead of lithium-ion on the device and it has no GSM antenna; so that it does not interfere with the electronics at the station.
Check out the videos to know a lot more.