As I already wrote, the astronauts who live on the International Space Station don't have the latest or the most powerful computers to work with. But they also are using personal digital assistants in space, not just for fun, but for real applications. With their PDAs, they can control what's on board or use them as a speech processing platform. One of the astronauts has even designed an application to compute the time that would be left before having to abandon the ISS in the event of depressurisation.
For your information, here are the links to a previous story, "Supercomputing in space" (here or there). But let's go back to the European Space Agency news release, which states that PDAs can be used in space for real applications.
For example, on the space station there is an application called the Inventory Management System (IMS) that is responsible for keeping track of the location of all items stored on board. This application is based on the use of barcode labels. Starting in March 2007, the old barcode reader terminals will be replaced by PDAs. These PDAs will be equipped with a barcode reader and will be connected to the IMS via a wireless network.
Below is an illustration showing the evolution of the application used on the ISS to track the location of all items stored on board (Credit: ESA)
And this is not an isolated example. Thomas Reiter, one of the astronauts, has designed a specific application, known as the PDA Depressurisation Program (PDP), and which will tell the other astronauts how much time they have before they need to abandon the ISS in the event of depressurisation.
Luckily, some other applications are less frightening, such as the use of PDAs as speech processing platforms.
Combined with wireless communication, PDAs could become suitable devices for crew-to-crew communication (i.e. VOIP applications) and crew-to-system communication (speech synthesis and speech recognition). (Credit: ESA)
The ESA adds that this crew-to-crew communication could be efficient even in the event of depressurisation.
One limitation for applications employing voice sounds for either input or output is the noise that is always present on board the ISS, most of which is generated by the ventilation system. The PDA Depressurisation Program uses speech synthesis to notify the crew members about the time remaining before egress. However, ambient sound is not an issue for this application because, if depressurisation occurs, the ventilation system is automatically switched off as safety measure.
I should add that the ESA doesn't mention any brand or operating system... Do they run Windows or Linux? I don't know.
Sources: Maurizio Martignano, European Space Agency, January 26, 2007; and various other websites
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