IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Talk: Smart SPHERES

I spent yesterday evening at the Carnegie Mellon University Building at Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, last night, listening to a talk given by Mark Micire. The talk was fantastic! You’ve heard of these guys, but if you haven’t, three smart spheres are currently riding along with the ISS crew, testing tele-operation and avionics algorithms in low Earth orbit.


  1. ISS Update
  2. Technology Mission
  3. More ISS info
  4. MIT Space Science Laboratory

 These things are great! Actuated by compressed CO2 and controlled via an Android phone! They offer ground control and astronauts the ability to investigate off-normal situations that may arise on the ISS. They also offer the research community, on an international level, the ability to test 6-dof avionics algorithms in a controlled and safe environment in micro-gravity.

The talk described the spheres development over the last decade and also discussed the hacking nature of the project! Though the spheres themselves were developed by students at MIT, the android controller component was hacked together in 6 months prior to flight testing. This is an amazing feat given that there is a typical 2 year flight testing period for almost all systems that are delivered to the ISS. The story was amazing, and the quality of the hacks used in order to get the Android phone, OS, and SPHERES package to the station was almost unbelievable, yet totally inspiring.

I encourage you to read about SPHERES on the NASA and MIT webpages, and take home a very important message. Keep thinking, keep building, and keep hacking!

— Jim

(All images shameless taken from

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