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Back in July of last year, crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) received a very special payload of devices from Google’s Advanced Technologies and Projects team. The prototype devices, codenamed Project Tango, were meant for NASA’s microsatellites, the SPHERES, that have been accompanying the astronauts on their voyage around the planet since 2006.

I recently had the incredible luxury of corresponding with Maria Alberty of the Ames Research Facility, the group inside of NASA in charge of overseeing the SPHERES and their experiments, with the goal of revisiting Project Tango’s involvement with the SPHERES and adding to the continuity of Talk Android’s reporting on this milestone.

Last year, Talk Android’s Jared Peters and Jeff Causey had reported on the events leading up to the Google prototypes being delivered to the ISS (which you can view here and here for some great back-story), with Brendan Lynch delivering the most recent article discussing Project Tango’s upcoming departure to the space station. It was from their work and my own personal interest that most of my knowledge of the whole Project Tango affair was derived.

It was not enough. Poor Maria really had to get me on the same page before we could even start discussing Project Tango…

Maria initially guided me, gently, through the background of what SPHERES are and what they are after a device, like the Project Tango prototype, is added (dubbed “Smart” SPHERES).


The microsatellites called SPHERES (an acronym for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) are, as NASA describes them, bowling-ball sized instruments that provide a test-bed for research and development in the field of multi-body formations, flying, multi-spacecraft control algorithms, and free-flying physical and material science investigations. These satellites are used as a platform for these experiments inside the unique environment offered in the ISS.

These SPHERES are, as Maria says, self-contained. They each have their own units of power, propulsion systems, basic computers, navigation equipment, and adapters and ports that allow researchers to upgrade them to test specific investigations.

[SPHERES] are used inside the space station to test a set of well-defined instructions for spacecraft performing autonomous rendezvous and docking maneuvers. Basically SPHERES can act alone, or with the addition of other hardware mounted to SPHERES act as a free-flying platform that is capable of accommodating varying mounting features and mechanisms in order to test and examine the physical or mechanical properties of materials in microgravity.

It’s these adapters that allowed SPHERES to have their first taste of being “Smart”. In 2011, on the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, NASA rocketed up a Google Nexus S (designed by Samsung) to be plugged into the SPHERES. The Nexus S was the first commercial smartphone to be approved for use and to fly aboard the ISS.

D.W. Wheeler, lead engineer in Ames’ Intelligent Robotics Group, said at the time: “By connecting a smartphone, we can immediately make SPHERES more intelligent. With the smartphone, the SPHERES will have a built-in camera to take pictures and video, sensors to help conduct inspections, a powerful computing unit to make calculations, and a Wi-Fi connection that we will use to transfer data in real-time to the space station and mission control.”

Jumping ahead to the summer of 2014, the Ames Research Facility created a new breed of Smart SPHERES by upgrading them with the Google Project Tango prototype.


As was covered in the media, researchers for the Project Tango-equipped Smart SPHERES set out with the goal of investigating the effects of giving the SPHERES three-dimensional awareness via the prototype’s 3D sensor capable of creating a three-dimensional model of its environment.

Initially, NASA researchers had hoped that the upgraded Smart SPHERES would pave the way for a series of tasks that could be delegated out to the SPHERES. Mostly housekeeping-type tasks, the researchers envisioned video surveys for safety audits, noise level measurements, and air flow and quality assessments, all of which must be routinely performed by the ISS crew members.

While not divulging specific experimental results, both past or ongoing, of Project Tango’s involvement with the SPHERES, Maria did state that the current batch of Project Tango Smart SPHERES would be succeeded by next-generation free-flying robots.

The Project Tango experiment was the last test session of “Smart SPHERES”. During the past three years, “Smart SPHERES” has provided valuable engineering data regarding the use of a free-flying robot on the Space Station. Based on this data, NASA has started developing a next-generation free-flying robot, which will be deployed in 2017-2018.

She went on to reiterate that the next generation of robots are a new project of Ames, implementing the data and analyses garnered from Smart SPHERES. These robots are still in the preliminary research phase.

So what could the Ames Research Facility be cooking up next? We’ll have to wait and see, but Maria did indicate that, up until this point, Google has not had any involvement with Ames’ use of Project Tango.

For me, it’ll be a tough two years while I wait to see what Ames assembles with the Smart SPHERES data. In the meantime, I’ll just have to satisfy myself with all things related to the New Horizons spacecraft. What can I say, I love space-dwelling robots!

Come comment on this article: Exclusive: NASA recaps Project Tango-equipped Smart SPHERES, hints at next-generation of free-flying robots

Rolling Stone Magazine is Coming to the Google Play Store

Posted by wicked January - 29 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off


Rolling Stone magazine has been a cultural force for years, but only last year did the company realize that online mobile distribution can be a potential money-maker. That’s why Rolling Stone will now be available on the Google Play Newsstand. The magazine will feature some archive articles for free, but you will have to pay to see more.

One of the justifications for taking advantage of the Google Newsstand is the massive growth the Android operating system has seen the past few years and the increased amount of money being spent on the store. Google is also notorious for treating content providers fairly and beneficially for both parties, which is why The Rolling Stone will be working with Google.

Are you a Rolling Stone reader? If so, what to you think about its arrival on the Google Play Store Newsstand? Leave a comment below and let us know what you’re thinking.

Via: Android Authority

Source: Fast Company

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Google Chrome Beta for Android gets Update

Posted by wicked January - 29 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off


Google’s hardworking Chrome team has officially completed Chrome 41 Beta and is prepping it for release. Within the next few hours, you should be able to update your version to Chrome 41.0.2272.34 via the Google Play Store.

The release is mostly bug fixes, and performance improvements, but the ability to refresh a page by swiping down from the top of the page is a clever and simple addition to improve your browsing experience. The new update may have some issues, so if you come across any, help us all out by filing a bug report. For more information about specific tweaks and changes, check out the Git log.

Go ahead and update your app, and leave a comment below to let us know how well it is (or isn’t) working!

Source: Google Chrome Releases

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Movie search in Google Search for Mobile now visually stimulating

Posted by wicked January - 29 - 2015 - Thursday Comments Off


Google is currently rolling out a visual refresh to movie searches in the mobile search engine in Chrome. As you can see from the animated gif above, you’ll be treated to a more material designed looking movie search process in mobile search, something that Google has been working toward. Not only that but the cards got a bit more informative.

Each movie profile shows a description, ratings, notable actors, links to related Play Store and YouTube items among other things. The new UI is pretty specific when it comes to search items though. For example you have to have a search query with the word movies in it. You can search for Angelina Jolie and you won’t see the sexy new UI.

It’s also worth noting that as is Google fashion the process is rolling out in small batches so if you don’t see it yet, you’ll have to wait patiently.

source: Google+

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Google Fiber officially arriving at Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham

Posted by wicked January - 27 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off


Google Fiber was initially started off in Kansas City, Kansas followed by Kansas City, Missouri. It was then made available in regions of Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah as well. Today, Google has announced the rollout of Fiber in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham.

Fiber will be accessible in 18 cities across these 4 regions, so a large number of users will be able to get their hands on Fiber for the first time.

The service was known to be arriving in these regions sometime soon and this announcement from Google has officially confirmed it for us.

Fiber brings blazing fast broadband internet to your home, which is up to 100 times faster than conventional broadband connections as Google proudly mentions.

Customers have the option of picking Gigabit Internet + TV for $130 a month, while the standard Gigabit internet option will set you back by $70 per month. Google is waiving off construction fees for both connections, which is a nice little perk.

But if you’re not looking to spend so much on broadband, Google also has a standard internet connection which is on par with today’s speeds. It offers 5 Mbps download speeds and will require you to pay a $300 construction fee up front or in instalments of $25 for 12 months.

If you are covered by either of the aforementioned cities, make sure you check with Google for a new connection.

Source: Google

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News leaks that Google Fiber is speeding to four new cities

Posted by wicked January - 27 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off


The Wall Street Journal has intercepted some news that Google is planning on announcing four new cities to receive its gigabit internet service, Fiber, this week. The lucky four? Well, if you’re a resident of Nashville, TN, Atlanta, GA, Charlotte, NC, or Raleigh, NC, the spotlight is on you!

When asked for a comment about Google Fiber spreading to these cities, Google declined to comment ahead of the official announcements. It has been confirmed through a variety of sources that the first of these announcements is expected to happen today.

It’s a sad fact that for all of the talk of the supremacy of capitalism in the United States, many areas are stuck in government supported monopolies. In fact, the United States is one of the slowest developed countries in internet speeds.

Google wants to end that with Fiber by providing one gigabyte per second of internet speed to consumers for a refreshing $80 per month. To put that in perspective, in my area, Comcast will let you suffer with 150 megabytes per second for $115/month and Cox offers 150 megabytes per second for $80/month.

It’s not entirely altruistic of Google, though. The Mountain View search giant needs you to have internet and it increasingly needs you to have it at breakneck speeds. Google’s products like the Chromebook lose a significant portion of their functionality without the internet. And no one would want a Chromecast if streaming high quality YouTube videos to their high-definition TVs landed users in perma-buffering.

Google hopes to inspire force these sluggish ISPs to up their game by offering consumers a far better alternative to the services these companies provide services that would make Marie Antoinette proud hitting the ISPs right in the pocketbook.

Google launched Fiber in Kansas City first. The service is now being provided to Austin and Provo as well. Other cities on the short-list include San Antonio, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Portland.

Personally, I’d love to see Fiber come to Oklahoma City, but I don’t blame them for not wanting to visit the Quakenado state.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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Google updates Chrome OS to version 40, most changes in the background

Posted by wicked January - 27 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off


Google has started pushing out an update to the Chrome OS taking it up to version 40. As is usual for an update to a major system like the OS, Google has included a host of bug fixes, security updates and feature enhancements, most of which are under the hood or run in the background. However, users will see a few changes in the look of the desktop on Chrome OS.

The changes that will be most noticeable involve the default wallpaper, which has been updated to reflect a Material Design. If users happen to own more than one Chrome device, the wallpaper, including custom wallpapers, will now be synced across their devices. If users enjoy using emoji in their communications, they will find a new emoji palette has been added to give users quicker access.

If you have a Chrome OS powered device, be on the lookout for the update to be available to you soon.

sources: Chrome Releases Blog

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Google and the NFL finally partner, highlight clips and more coming to YouTube

Posted by wicked January - 27 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off


The NFL can’t ignore Google and YouTube’s power anymore. A deal has been reached that brings highlight clips to YouTube in time for the Super Bowl and beyond.  It’s not just YouTube as Google search results will provide more detailed information on games, which include kickoff times as well as the networks airing the games.

Google will promote the NFL on YouTube and other places, but they will also share revenue from ads that appear with the highlight clips and search results with the NFL.

Now before you go thinking that full games will come to YouTube, that’s not in the cards for now. The NFL wants fans to watch the games on the TV networks since they have paid a ton of money for those rights. Google will steer fans to both the networks and, but in-game clips will be something fans will enjoy on YouTube starting as early as this week’s Super Bowl.

Now the only question I have is if the score in the above image will really be 0 – 0 with 10:45 left in the first quarter?

source: re/code

Come comment on this article: Google and the NFL finally partner, highlight clips and more coming to YouTube

Google partners with WePay to extend Wallet support to 200,000 online stores

Posted by wicked January - 26 - 2015 - Monday Comments Off


Around 200,000 online stores will now be able to support Google Wallet as a payment method. Google has partnered with payment processor WePay, putting the former’s Instant Buy feature in the online stores. Instant Buy allows Google Wallet users to make purchases with just two clicks whether they are on the web or a mobile device. It removes the process of inputting payment information repeatedly. Everything is secure in a Google Wallet account and can be used from site to site.

Here is some of what WePay had to say about its partnership with Google:

Although Google Wallet is our first of announcement of its kind, you can expect to see more like it soon. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for any online platform to take advantage of mobile wallet technologies, no matter what those technologies are. We started with Google Wallet because Android is shipped on the majority of smart phones globally, and Google Wallet can be used both in native applications and on the mobile web. That means it currently serves the most users in the most contexts, and that makes for an excellent first step.

By teaming up with Google, WePay is the first payment company of its kind to enable partners and their end-users to support Google Wallet without having to spend the time and effort to integrate with Google themselves.

InvoiceASAP is the first of our partners to adopt the new service, instantly enabling its more than 200,000 small businesses users to accept Google Wallet.

WePay is also working to partner with Apple Pay users.

Do you use Google Wallet? Let us know in the comments if this partnership has you excited.

Source: WePay
Via: VentureBeat

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Apple put the kibash on any chance of the Nexus 6 getting a fingerprint sensor

Posted by wicked January - 26 - 2015 - Monday Comments Off


In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside had something interesting to say about the Nexus 6. Apparently Motorola and Google wanted to implement a fingerprint sensor on the back of the device right where that dimple is that holds the Motorola logo.

As you know, that didn’t happen, but the reason is interesting. It appears Apple had a hand in that decision. Maybe not directly, but the fact that Apple already secured the best supplier in the world (Authentec) had a dramatic effect. Unfortunately the second best supplier wasn’t ready for primetime yet.

It might actually be a blessing that things went south. It’s possible that Google might not have implemented Smart Lock. A fingerprint scanner makes it easier to secure your device and at the same time unlock it quickly. But now with Smart Lock, users can secure their devices and bypass the security automatically when connected to trusted devices or in a trusted area such as home. This implementation will eventually make it’s way to all Android devices as part of the Lollipop update.

Also interesting is the fact that the Nexus 6′s implementation was planned for the back of the device. That is usually an epic fail, but in past renditions, it was more of a swipe gesture. If implemented by a simple touch like Apple’s Touch ID, it would have been pretty darn good, especially if there’s no need to hit the power button first.

I am sure we will see more fingerprint sensors on Android devices, but for now Smart Lock will do just fine.

source: The Telegraph
via: TheVerge

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