One Small Step for Android, One Giant Leap for Synthetic Robotic Organisms

You might remember that we gave away some pretty sweet limited edition Android collectibles a few months ago.  As it turns out, these Androids had a few buddies that recently took a trip to the upper stratosphere (about 100,000 feet above the Earth’s surface) to take part in a research experiment by Google.

Image Courtesy Google

A team at Google built seven payloads equipped with Nexus S Android smartphones (with accompanying Android toys commanding each payload) and sent them into the Earth’s atmosphere with weather balloons.  The goal was to capture data with the Nexus S’s internal sensors, including GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer, and gyroscope – not to mention that they got some amazing shots of our big blue planet.

Image Courtesy Google

While I was in college, several of my engineering classmates sent a similar type of balloon into our atmosphere to measure ozone gas profiles in the stratosphere, so Google’s project immediately piqued my interest.  The Nexus S phones sent up used applications like Google Maps (with the new offline data mode available in version 5.0), Google Sky Map, Google Latitude, and some custom apps that sampled data from the phone’s sensors.

Data captured from the Nexus S, rendered in Google Earth.

With the data they collected, the Google team determined speeds and altitudes of the jet stream, and also found that the Nexus S’s internal GPS functioned up to a max altitude of around 60,000 feet (a secondary high-altitude GPS was included in the payload for more robust data collection).  If you’re feeling science-y, check out the rest of their findings in the What We Found section of their blog post.

Lastly, check out the beautiful video they shot from one of the payloads below.  Is this breathtaking footage or what?

You can also check out a brief summary of the project in the following video.

I love when big companies use their tremendous resources to do interesting science experiments like atmosphere and space exploration. Research projects like this are conducted at universities around the world all the time, but when Google does a project like this, we all get to follow along with it.

On a side note: If anybody at Google needs help sending Android phones into space, please call/text/tweet/email/fax/telegraph me and I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

  • Jonathan Paul

    That video alone was worth the blog post. Very cool.