I know a lot of you already think that the Android mobile platform is out of this world, but the geniuses at NASA are taking this a step further and developing 'helper robots' powered by the Android OS.
NASA calls these robots SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites), and each volleyball sized can fly around the International Space Station thanks to tiny CO2 thrusters. Attached to each of the robot helpers is a Samsung Nexus S which transforms it into a free-flying 'Smart SPHERE' thanks to the smartphone's low-power computer and cameras.
The Nexus S phone is certified by NASA for use on the space station. Each Nexus S is connected to a SPHERES free-flyer via a cable with a wireless network connection to the space station's computers provides the data path to the ground. The only changes made to the handset is that the GSM antenna has been removed in order to reduce interference and the handset is powered by a AA battery rather than the usual Li-Ion battery.
"Android is a very important feature for our team," said Mark Micire, a software engineer in the Intelligent Robotics Group. "The availability of the Android source code allows us to customize the smartphone to be used as a compact, low-cost, low-power computer, rather than just as a phone. And because the platform is open-source, we anticipate that the public will be able to develop Android software that can be used in our experiments. In the future, you are going see smartphones used for all sorts of embedded processing applications, from robotics to sensor networks and equipment control," Micire said.
Pretty cool stuff!