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While many parents are understandably quick to criticise computer games as mindless time wasters with a narcotic grip on their offspring, engineers at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) see in the latest addition to Microsoft's Xbox system a shortcut to resolving several conundrums of spacecraft design.
Xbox's Kinect add-on is a chocolate box-sized three-camera system that detects and analyses gamers' movements and translates them into control instructions. Inspired by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who used Kinect to help a model helicopter achieve autonomous flight, SSTL's Shaun Kenyon wondered if this off-the-shelf capability could be used in space.
Specifically, Kenyon and University of Surrey lecturer Chris Bridges, who are working together on a project to build a shoebox-sized "cubesat" around the electronics in a standard Google Android smartphone, wondered if they could harness Kinect's situational awareness capability to allow two cubesats to autonomously dock and undock in orbit.