NASA is developing an Alexa-enabled robot for its Mars mission 2020

Anisa Menur
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The announcement was made during Tuesday Night Live with James Hamilton session at the ongoing AWS re:Invent 2016 conference in Las Vegas

Tom Soderstorm took the stage during the Tuesday Night Live with James Hamilton session at AWS re: Invent 2016

The first day of the fifth Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent event closed today with a Tuesday Night Live with James Hamilton (VP and Distinguished Engineer at AWS) session at Hall B, Sands Expo, Las Vegas.

During the session, Hamilton invited several guest speakers to share the stage with him, including Tom Soderstorm, IT Chief Technology Officer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Soderstorm spoke of the role cloud computing plays in NASA’s mission to return to Mars in 2020.

“We now have technologies, new partnerships coming in, and it’s going to be an exciting time,” he opened.

He continued by stating that NASA is going to continue its Mars mission in 2020, by landing a new spacecraft on its surface just like they have done four years ago.

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The new explorer will have improved features such as new wheels with better ability to climb taller hills, a microphone for scientists to record sounds from the planet, drills to dig and store rock samples, and an ability to produce oxygen “to prepare for the next Matt Damons that might come up and need some help.”

Interestingly, ROV-E, the prototype for the new explorer, is able to be operated by both a joystick and Amazon’s voice-enabled virtual assistant Alexa. The prototype will be showcased on the second day of AWS re:Invent.

“This looks remarkably like toys, but that’s not a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s speeding up how we work, how we test, how we fuse,” he said, adding that ROV-E will be a blueprint that is publicly available for schools, universities, and the public to build themselves.

“The idea is that we are all going to be the future of explorers,” he said.

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Soderstorm explained that cloud computing plays a great role in space technology nowadays, particularly in transferring data gathered through various missions. JPL had also begun to change how the institution is working with cloud technology, which is by implementing it since the beginning of a project.

Soderstorm also predicted the future of space technology, which he believed will involve greater participation by the public through various media.

“Now the next generation … they have much more knowledge. They have smartphones with the NASA JPL app and they will expect to be amazed by what they find. They want to participate; they don’t want to just observe. They want to be part of it, whether they are on the surface just like my personal heroes when I grew up the astronauts; they want to participate by using augmented reality, using their smartphones, or [even] on the surface as astronaut,” he elaborated.

“It’ no longer about space race between countries; it’s a race for humanity into space,” he stressed.

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A glimpse to machine learning’s future

Another outstanding guest speaker at the session was Dr. Matt Wood, GM, Product Strategy, AWS. He stated that the “tremendous momentum” behind artificial intelligence in the past five to six years has been driven by three points: a set of algorithm, ability to collect and harvest increasing amount of data, and the availability of utility computing.

“These three things are fueling the next wave of artificial intelligence. A part in technology in particular, that is really putting it in the forefront, is something called deep learning,” he stated.

Dr. Wood stated that deep learning has found its niche in some of the most complicated features of artificial intelligence, such as image and voice analysis. However, programmability, portability, and performance remain the challenges faced by the industry to grow.

During the session, Hamilton also announced upcoming plans to expand AWS’ into 18 region, from the current number of 14 cities around the world. The company is also looking forward to new projects such as the Hawaii trans-Pacific cable, custom router, software defined networking, and the 2016 Custom Silicon. He also confirmed about the existence of the Amazon Global Network which belongs exclusively to the company.

Image Credit: AWS

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