Personal digital assistants in space

Jan 26, 2007
Personal digital assistants in space
Inventory Management System application used on the ISS to track the location of all items stored on board.

Can tiny and ubiquitous devices like Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) be of use for space applications? The answer is a definite yes. Recent tests have demonstrated current and future uses for PDAs on board the International Space Station.

Current applications

Up until late 2006, PDAs had been used on board the International Space Station (ISS) mainly as personal computing or entertainment platforms.
In the near future, PDAs will start being used as integrated components of real applications.

For example, on the space station there is an application called the Inventory Management System (IMS) that is responsible for keeping track of the location of all items stored on board. This application is based on the use of barcode labels. Starting in March 2007, the old barcode reader terminals will be replaced by PDAs. These PDAs will be equipped with a barcode reader and will be connected to the IMS via a wireless network.

A special application, known as the PDA Depressurisation Program (PDP) and conceived by the astronaut Thomas Reiter, has been developed by ESA to compute the 'egress time', – the time that is left before having to abandon the ISS in the event of depressurisation.

This application, tested for usability by Reiter during his long duration mission – from July to December 2006 – is currently undergoing qualification by NASA and will become part of the standard set of software packages loaded on each astronaut PDA.

Prototype applications and research areas

PDAs have been investigated as alternative or complementary platforms for some of the applications currently running on the ISS laptops. The idea is to use a PDA in those situations where a laptop might be inconvenient because it is too big or cumbersome.

An example of laptop to PDA conversion, developed by industry using ESA research and development funding, is the porting of the ESA/NASA International Procedure Viewer (IPV) application. In this type of conversion, the critical factor is adapting the laptop based user interface to a new platform where the available screen area is significantly smaller.

Another area of research is the use of the PDA as a voice or speech processing platform. Combined with wireless communication, PDAs could become suitable devices for crew-to-crew communication (VOIP applications) and crew-to-system communication (speech synthesis and speech recognition – an example is shown in the illustration – click the figure to enlarge).

One limitation for applications employing voice sounds for either input or output is the noise that is always present on board the ISS, most of which is generated by the ventilation system. The PDA Depressurisation Program uses speech synthesis to notify the crew members about the time remaining before egress. However, ambient sound is not an issue for this application because, if depressurisation occurs, the ventilation system is automatically switched off as safety measure.

Source: European Space Agency

Explore further: SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ag-tech could change how the world eats

3 hours ago

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world's newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming - the world's oldest industry - with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough ...

World's rarest cetacean threatened by illegal gillnets

3 hours ago

The world's rarest cetacean could disappear in less than four years unless immediate action is taken by the Mexican government to protect it from entanglement in gillnets deployed illegally in its Gulf of California refuge, ...

Enviro-tracker is wearable for citizen monitoring

5 hours ago

Mobile hardware and software allow us to count our steps, and to count our calories, but a Vancouver, Canada, startup group asked, what about tracking our environment? TZOA was founded in 2013. Laura Moe, ...

In Curiosity Hacked, children learn to make, not buy

5 hours ago

With her right hand, my 8-year-old daughter, Kalian, presses the red-hot soldering iron against the circuit board. With her left hand, she guides a thin, tin wire until it's pressing against both the circuit board and the ...

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

15 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

22 hours ago

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

Spinning up a dust devil on Mars

Dec 19, 2014

Spinning up a dust devil in the thin air of Mars requires a stronger updraft than is needed to create a similar vortex on Earth, according to research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.