Google and NASA have developed three smart robots designed to fly around the International Space Station. They’re not what you might imagine. They don’t have boxy torsos and bendable limbs. They’re spherical satellites, the size of bowling balls. For years these robots, loaded with navigational software and built-in cameras and sensors, have been working inside the ISS but limited to a 10′ x 10′ space. Now NASA is readying them to roam around.
By attaching Android phones to the flying robots, engineers enable the robots to serve as assistants for astronauts in space, operated by remote control. (NASA can also operate them remotely from earth, if need be.) They’ll be able to conduct interior station surveys and inspections, capture mobile camera images and video. NASA also plans to simulate external free-flight excursions and in time will test whether the robots can handle other, more challenging tasks. Basically, whatever astronauts used to do.