NASA embarked on an ambitious project a couple
of years ago – using a smartphone to power its
space robot, the SPHERES satellite. The robots are
helpers used in the International Space Station
(ISS) to examine cameras and check sound and
radiation levels.
The project is now live and there are two
smartphones in space on the ISS helping with
operations, but picking the right phone and
preparing it for its journey was not a trivial task.
Interestingly, after looking at the HTC Nexus One,
the team decided to skip on it and actually use
the next generation Samsung Nexus S. Here is
why:
“We knew of other projects that were using the
Nexus One, and HTC had done some interesting
things in that phone that didn’t make it ideal for
us. It has to do with [HTC’s] battery technology—
it has to be a proprietary battery or it won’t boot
up,” Mark Micire, research scientist and project
lead of the Intelligent Robotics Group at Nasa
said.
The battery requirement has a lot to do with they
way batteries crash. Conventional alkaline
batteries leakage is much easier to contain and
that’s one of the modifications the NASA team did
for the Nexus S – it made it run on them.
But then came the software challenges. Since not
everything is publicly available, a lot of reverse
engineering had to happen. Because of possible
interference, NASA engineers had to put the
phone in a constant airplane mode, and after
some tinkering they found out that it was the
TXRX amplifier that had to be removed to achieve
that.
Ultimately, the Human Exploration and
Telerobotics Project (HET) behind all that showed
its respect for the big achievement that Android
is saying “you just get so much that comes for
free with the platform.”
“We made the right decision by going with
Android because the ability to remove the lithium
battery and have it run off of alkaline batteries I
think would have been a lot more difficult with
the Apple products… and having it work without
a driver under Windows XP … It’s humbling to say
that even NASA can’t outrun the advancements
that are happening with the mobile phone,” said
Micire.

Image Courtesy: Ars Technica

TechWrapZA

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