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Space Station lightsabre-sparring hoverdroids to be upgraded

ISS mini-globes get tractor beams, crowdsauce greasing

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Wireless power transmission + flight outside the station

Even better, the two little globots should if possible be able to pass power to one another via their cunning tractor-beam rigs. "Another goal of this program thrust area is to demonstrate wireless power transfer through resonant inductive coupling," says DARPA.

Thirdly, engineers working on Earth are required to begin work on "the next generation SPHERES", aka "Exo-SPHERES". These would be able to operate "both inside and outside of ISS", departing and re-entering the station via the small airlock fitted to the station's new "Kibo" lab module.

The new and improved space spheres will need "substantial manoeuvring capability", says DARPA, and "Safety features enabling semi-autonomous operations in the proximity of ISS".

Last but surely not in DARPA's mind least is the fourth part of the new proposal - a trendy SPHERES crowdsourcing initiative intended to see if the power of the internet hive mind can be useful for tech projects (and, incidentally, promote sci/tech to the world at large - in particular US high school students considering science or engineering degrees).

To this end DARPA are offering $1.2m (as opposed to $1m for the upgrades to existing SPHERES and just $750k for groundbound work on the Exo-SPHERES) for various crowdsaucier tools. These are to include a high-level programming language designed to let "non-specialists (eg high school students)" write useful "complex cluster flight algorithms".

DARPA also want to see "one or more incentive structures which would incentivize a large number of non-specialist laypeople to participate in the collaboration environment and in the development of new cluster flight algorithms". This is reminiscent of the recent 40th-anniversary balloon-hunt compo in which cunningly organised trickle-downs of prize money allowed the winning team (at MIT, funnily enough) to take on a legion of recruiters who then signed up the necessary US-wide spotter network to find randomly-deployed balloons before other organisations could do so.

Both DARPA cash and the chance to work on actual SPHERES sessions in orbit can be offered as incentives here.

So, anyone interested in designing a robotic minisatellite eyeball nav system, a magnetic tractor-beam/power-ray rig for same, new and enhanced spacegoing spheroid-bots and/or related crowdsauce dev tools - read this pdf. ®

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