Android In Spaaaace!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 | 10:47 AM

Here at Google, we’re all about exploration. It’s no surprise that some of our favorite products are built to let you explore the world in ways never before possible. Google Maps lets you find your way all around the world. Google Earth lets you explore the planet in detail, complete with trees and oceans. And Google Sky Map lets you explore the skies right from your Android device. Well, we wanted to do a little exploring of our own, so we decided to venture into near space, with the help of some Androids.

Recently, we travelled to Ione, CA and sent seven payloads up, up, and away into near space, each equipped with a Nexus S. We took some cues from others who have sent homemade weather balloon rigs far up, and we wanted an opportunity to collect some interesting data about the sensors in Nexus S – GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer. We also couldn’t resist what looked like a great way to spend a weekend. Sending the balloons up also gave us an opportunity to capture some stunning imagery and videos of Earth. Take a look at unaltered footage of an Android at over 100,000 ft above the Earth’s surface:




The Rig
How did we get our little Android commanders that high up? Well, first the Android platform provides a robust development environment and Nexus S has a great set of embedded sensors, both of which made it easy for us to write the apps we needed for this project. Going forward with other similar projects we have an open environment that we can modify at any level necessary. We then worked with UCSC student Greg Klein to prepare each of the payloads, which were housed in foam coolers. We secured a nylon load line to the cooler and attached to it a radar reflector, a parachute, and finally, a weather balloon. Every payload had an APRS transmitter attached to a GPS that was known to work at high altitudes, as well as batteries for power. The remainder of each payload was different for each balloon: some had digital cameras taking pictures and some had video cameras mounted at various angles (up, down, and at the horizon).

These phones were running a variety of apps: Google Maps for Mobile 5.0 (with offline map data) which allowed us to see what was directly below the balloon, Google Sky Map to see if we could identify the real stars in the backdrop, Latitude to report location when the phones had a data connection, and our own custom sensor logging app that sampled all the available sensors on the device. We even manned our payloads with some special astronauts: small Android robots, and boy did they fly. Check out an in-depth look at how we prepared and launched the payloads:




What We Found
The payloads collected a lot of data, and many reached high altitudes, with the highest topping out at 107,375 ft., over 20 miles high, or over three times the height of an average commercial jet. We also clocked one of the payloads at 139 mph at its fastest.

In tracking the sensors on each of the phones, we observed that the GPS in Nexus S could function up to altitudes of about 60,000 ft. and would actually start working again on the balloon’s descent. We also saw that Nexus S could withstand some pretty harsh temperatures (as low as -50˚C). Some interesting data we collected:
Maximum Speed: 139 mph
Maximum Altitude: 107,375 ft (over 20 miles, over 30 km)
Maximum Ascent Rate: 5.44 m/s
Average Flight Duration: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Average Descent Time: 34 minutes

By analyzing all the collected data, we were able to find some interesting trends. For instance, we determined the speed and altitude of the jet stream: about 130mph at 35,000 ft.

In the end, the team recovered all of the payloads sent up, we even recovered the payload we sent as a test a week prior to the actual launch. We had a blast taking Android all the way up to near space. If you're interested in launching a balloon of your own, click here for more info. We have more exciting things coming your way as we use the openness of the Android platform to experiment here at mission Android headquarters.

*Special thanks to Arshan Poursohi, Greg Klein, and Tommy Nourse for all their help.

Posted by Zi Wang, Captain, Mission Android Headquarters

44 comments:

mowmo said...

Stupendo

David said...

If that photography and video was taken with a nexus S, why is it in HD? The nexus S only allows for 480p video in 3gp format. It doesn't let you take 720p or 1080p video.... if it supports that in hardware, why not let users have access to that quality, too?

MartinC said...

Seems like a little Android didn't want to leave space...

Or at least took his own route while doing it.

Mike Wood said...

That's fantastic. Was sad when he got knocked off and tumbled into space. Nicely done.

Gustavo said...

Oh, so cute Android robot... become space junk.

Metallicaon said...

Cool!

¥€$ said...

Have you found the robot?

Aero said...

Pure amazing...

Dan Ross said...

No, you guys killed the Android!

Rem said...

@David

If you read http://android.hibal.org/ it explains that they mounted a GoPro HD video camera externally, which is where this footage seems to have come from.

Very cool project, guys!

Sil3ncer7 said...

There a possibility of seeing/downloading the apps used that were written?

David said...

@Rem Good to know. Thanks!

Pepsiman said...

> If your interested in launching a balloon

s/your/you're/

cortega said...

Fantastic!!!

Salvador said...

Nice work! And nice data presentation; it is very interesting.

However, I miss some more credit or some link to the guy who had the original idea of sending a smart phone to space. I encourage you to do it. It doesn't feel like Google this way, you know ;-).

Fabiano Tarlao said...

Very cool!

How are the brave phones? Are there any survivors?

I suppose the impact speed is something around 200 mph

Vedrana said...

@Salvador - I was just thinking the very same thing. :)

All-Vox said...

This is amazing, thanks a lot!!

Matt Stannard said...

That's pretty awesome! I wonder if my insurance would cover sending my phone into space!!!

Patrick_Kajirian said...

Now the developers need to adapt Google My Tracks to work with space flight... I feel a hybrid Maps/SkyView app coming on the horizon!

GAIA said...

Awesome! We sent up two android phones on December 18. One was used for 720p video and still snapshots (Samsung Epic 4G), the other was for pics and GPS logging (Motorola Backflip). The video montage is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3QszyuYiSQ You can check out our website at: http://gaia.terrasunder.org

MD said...

You went to 32.72 km in altitude! This is awesome! But... it's the upper atmosphere. 'Space' is ≥100 km (or at least >80 km, the old altitude for astronaut wings).

You call it 'near space' in the text, but the headline still confuses people (who also forget balloons can't make it into space).

This is spectacularly awesome. Next though... you should actually send an android into space!
Or even better, into orbit! ;)

Perhaps SpaceX can give you a ride... and I know a grad student or twenty who would love to help out.

reemrevnivek said...

The 60,000 foot restriction is unnecessary. You should get a GPS reciever that correctly interprets the anti-ballistic-missile provisions, which restrict operation only for simultaneous height and high speed operation.

Arjen Haayman said...

Hate to spoil the party, but this is just a rip-off from this iPhone-experiment done by a father and son: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXkoIBDXwd8

Mike Wood said...

@ Arjen : I guess it is a rip off in the same way that Sheppard ripped off Gagarin, or Chuck Yeager was ripped off by Jackie Cochran in her breaking of the sound barrier... It's all good fun as I see it. More people trying things and experimenting is always good. Oh and I am not a droid user yet. So no implied bias. :)

Arjen Haayman said...

All right, I guess 'rip-off' is too harsh :-) And it sure is fun! It's just that the first time I read about this experiment by this father and son I was more impressed by the simplicity of it all. Now this one seems a bit bloated.

Anyways: it was real fun to watch these videos!

Thomas said...

Nice :)

Jin said...

Cool & hilarious - especially when the Android doll flies off into space!

Elegie said...

Beautiful and moving. You made my day.

Cedric said...

Very neat, but please correct "if your interested".

Julien said...

what's the music pls ? :(

Ntensus Web Solutions said...

I wonder what materials could be used to increase the altitude achievable. And if you could "chain" together a communications link by time releasing a series of balloons. Then you could chain together a series of remote controls or better yet determine how you might be able to pre-program some navigations devices to actually control...this is getting out of control...

aDp said...

I think you should release the kml file for google earth with gathered information

saifudin said...

i like

Critique said...

I'm a little bit disappointed. It's not really better or more interesting than the project done by the father and his son.

Richard said...

Nice work guys and respect to Arjen and GAIA (and any others) for their work. The article mentioned an APRS transmitter without mentioning what that is. Anyone curious about this ham radio technology can find out here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_Packet_Reporting_System

As a matter of interest, was this using an APRS radio transmitter, or was it an APRS app running on Android?)

Cheers, Richard (ham VK2SKY)

Ondřej said...

The object visible in the upper left corner on 0:15 is Moon?

desert canuck said...

Check out the APRS tracking info at findu.com by entering the call signs of greg, Kj6elp, and Ki6nko at db0anf.de
Look into the mobile archives tab.
canoeman

desert canuck said...

Anyone who passes the very simple ham tech license can use these very small tic tac box size APRS trackers, and the tracking is free.
I put one on my dog when we leave home, can find him with in 3 feet, anywhere on earth
Add a key board, and you can send and receive text messages and email for free.
Great for hiking in the bush.

Martin said...

@Ondřej no, its the sun.

emrahunal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Serat Jagat said...

:-)
@ pepsiman: ow, "r" is pardonable because they have done something excellent.

Bill Richardson said...

Hello, my school is doing a similar project with a balloon in the upcoming Spring. I would like to contact someone in the project about advice on this or technical advice.
Thanks
Bill Richardson
N5VEI
brichardson4@gmail.com

Sami said...

Google Navigation (HTC Desire) doesnt work in Macedonia...it says "Google Maps Navigation is not yet available in this location"...any solution??
THnx