Japan’s space agency has for the first time released photos and videos taken on the International Space Station by its resident robot drone, which can be remote-controlled from Earth. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) says footage taken by the Internal Ball Camera (or Int-Ball) can be checked in real time by flight controllers and researchers on the ground and then fed back to the onboard crew.
The Int-Ball was manufactured entirely by 3D printing, and it uses existing drone technology. It’s essentially a floating ball with luminous blue eyes that looks like something straight from Pixar. The drone can be controlled from Earth by the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center.
JAXA says the robot drone can move anywhere at any time through autonomous flight and can record images from any angle. The Int-Ball weighs 1kg (2.2lbs), has a diameter of 15cm, and has 12 propellers, according to The Japan Times.
The Int-Ball also enables flight controllers and researchers on the ground to check the ISS team from the same viewpoint as the crew, which will help to maximize results of experiments. It has also cut the amount of work done by Japanese astronauts on the ISS by about 10 percent, photographing work and equipment for evaluation that otherwise would have to be done manually.
The Int-Ball was delivered to the Japanese module “Kibo” on the ISS in early June.
In the future, says JAXA, the Int-Ball will be able to check supplies and even help with onboard problems — though the details of how that will be accomplished by a limbless orb of cuteness are not yet known.