Space Station lightsabre-sparring hoverdroids to be upgraded

ISS mini-globes get tractor beams, crowdsauce greasing


In further Star Wars-themed international space station (ISS) news, it has emerged that not only is the orbiting space base soon to be equipped with a robot named "R2", but that its complement of small, spherical hoverdroids - not unlike those famously used by Luke Skywalker aboard the Millennium Falcon for light-sabre sparring - are to be upgraded and covered with crowdsauce.

The three hovering robots are known as SPHERES units (Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellite) - the last part of that being quite correct. Although the small globoids are confined to operations inside the space station, they are of course in their own orbits about the Earth while flying freely, and as such are classed as satellites.

The little machines propel themselves using jets of compressed CO2, and navigate using an ultrasonic system. They were designed by MIT engineering students as part of the so-called InSPIRE programme (International Space Station SPHERES Integrated Research Experiments), intended to stir up enthusiasm for technology among America's youth by offering them the chance to write code and design hardware add-ons for the SPHERES droids up in orbit.

By now, given the general vibe of the project, it will come as no surprise to regular Reg readers that the InSPIRE/SPHERES space station globotumblebot plan comes from DARPA. DARPA is the famously erratic Pentagon tech-dominance bureau, occasionally apt to let considerations of military usefulness slip its corporate mind in the excitement of finding, let us say, a young woman strapped down under a mysterious krenon-ray machine capable of turning her into a hugely powerful mutant gorilla - or, as we have here, scope to play with small hovering robots deployed inside an actual functioning space vessel.


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