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NASA and Google: A "Tango" Most Fruitful

Earlier today, I published the informative talk given at the March 2014 Embedded Vision Alliance Member Meeting by Larry Matthies, Supervisor of the Computer Vision Group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Matthies' presentation, "Vision-Based Navigation Applications: From Planetary Exploration to Consumer Devices," covered vision processing case studies spanning the diversity of projects he's been involved with over the years. Some of them, such as the Mars Exploration Rover and Mars Pathfinder, will likely be of no surprise to anyone already familiar with NASA's work.

Others, however, may be somewhat more unexpected. Specifically, in relation to the "Consumer Devices" portion of the presentation title, Matthies revealed that he was acting as an advisor to Google on the Project Tango 3D mapping smartphone, a project that I've previously mentioned several times. Matthies was reticent to discuss the specifics of his involvement with Google's ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects) group at the time, but a subsequently published video (shown above) may provide additional clues.

The two companies are working together to develop the SPHERES robot, with a vision system provided by Project Tango hardware, and scheduled for initial implementation on the ISS (International Space Station) some time this summer (the video shows a high altitude aircraft "zero gravity" simulation test). Multiple articles and videos on the Alliance website discuss the benefits of depth-discerning optics in enabling robots to operate autonomously in various application use cases; specifically, as VentureBeat's coverage notes:

Google and NASA plan to integrate Tango into a robotic platform, dubbed SPHERES, which flies around the ISS to help out astronauts. Tango’s 3D-sensing capabilities would allow the robots to navigate the space station autonomously, as well as map the environment in real time. While the robots will initially serve as assistants to the astronauts aboard the ISS, eventually they may be able to perform maintenance duties on their own.

For more perspectives, see the following additional writeups: