In space, no one can hear your mechanical equipment scream. Unless, that is, you're in a pressurized environment and there's a microphone array nearby.
Those are the test conditions under which power tool company Bosch and Astrobotic Technology Inc., a space logistics company that will soon send roving robots into space, plan to test experimental sensor technology that can assess how mechanical systems are running just by listening.
The research will take place aboard the International Space Station and could commence as early as May 2019.
The idea will be familiar to anyone who's ever caught an episode of NPR's Car Talk, now in reruns. In one of the show's recurring features, hosts "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers" diagnose automobile ailments by asking call-in guests to do impressions of the unusual noises their cars make. Oftener than not, even a clumsy impression leads to a diagnosis.
The joint Bosch and Astrobotic research adds a bit of scientific repeatability to that idea.
Bosch's SoundSee technology uses an array of microphones and machine learning to analyze information contained in noises emitted from machinery aboard the ISS. SoundSee's analytics will determine whether audio data might be used to improve the operations of the space station.
"Machines, such as motors and pumps, emit noise signatures while they operate," said Dr. Samarjit Das, principal researcher at Bosch Research and Technology Center in Pittsburgh. "Our SoundSee AI (artificial intelligence) algorithm uses machine learning to analyze these subtle acoustic clues and determine whether a machine, or even a single component of a machine, needs to be repaired or replaced."
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The equipment will be mounted on NASA's Astrobee robot, an autonomous free-flying vehicle built by Astrobotic that can navigate the internal chambers of the ISS.
"For some time, Bosch has been interested in using audio analytics to monitor critical machines and equipment, such as car engines or HVAC systems," said Dr. Joseph Szurley, a Bosch research scientist on the project. "The ISS will allow us to study how these techniques can extend to even more challenging and unique environments."