Here, we see one of the Spheres at the Intelligent Robotics Group Lab where the
droids undergo testing at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
cross-like brackets seen at the center are the ports where hardware is attached.
The Spheres were designed with modular ports, which allows NASA to use the many sensors
and capabilities of commercial smartphones to constantly upgrade the flying
Google's experimental Project Tango smartphone has a 3D sensor that is able to capture the surrounding environment -- making it a powerful mapping tool. With Project Tango, Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA, says Spheres can be smarter than ever and help take more of the day-to-day tasks out of the ISS crew members' hands.
Project Tango provides an inexpensive, open-source 3D mapping system for the Spheres. The display here is showing the capabilities of the Project Tango's 3D sensor, with the heat-map-like visualization depicting distances (with red closer and blue further).
Fong and the IRG team modified the Project Tango devices for integration with Spheres, butterflying the back side of the phone out so both the rear, with the sensors, and the front, with the display, are visible.
With the Tango device powered up, the Sphere now has an easily upgraded array of sensors and processors to act as the brain to the robots, capable of autonomous movement with a better, 3D understanding of their surroundings.