This Outdated Smartphone Chipset Is The Driving Force Behind NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter


Smartphone technology is one of the few that evolves and advances on a daily basis. This makes even your latest smartphone outdated in a matter of days! Worry not cause some of the best smartphone processors are being used to make something incredible. NASA is using smartphone processors to run the Mars Helicopter, namely Ingenuity.

This Outdated Smartphone Chipset Is Driving NASA Ingenuity Chopper

NASA is all set to explore Mars by sending astronauts to the Red Planet. The premier space agency has already sent rovers and helicopters to explore the Martian surface. We recently saw a couple of photo samples sent from the Ingenuity helicopter, giving us a better idea about the Red Planet and its surface.

Snapdragon 801 Powers NASA Ingenuity Rover

There are a lot of details behind the NASA Ingenuity rover. For one, the outdated Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset is powering the helicopter. To note, the Snapdragon 801 chipsets were used on premium smartphones way back in 2014 and 2015. The entire system runs an integrated board called the Qualcomm Flight Program, which is an autonomous flight operator.

This Outdated Smartphone Chipset Is Driving NASA Ingenuity Chopper

To note, the NASA Ingenuity helicopter landed safely on Mars and began hovering above the Perseverance rover - to which it was attached. The helicopter has sent back some photos, hovering above the rover and giving us a better idea about the planet. Now, the Ingenuity rover is gearing up to make its maiden voyage, detaching from the rover.

Qualcomm Flight Program On NASA Helicopter

That said, there are several technical hurdles with the Ingenuity chopper. The staff at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory plan and map the chopper's router. However, the flight will still be autonomous as there is a 15-minute delay in communication as the radio signals travel 173 miles from the Earth to Mars.

This Outdated Smartphone Chipset Is Driving NASA Ingenuity Chopper

During this 15 minute lag, the Snapdragon 801 chipset and the Qualcomm Flight Program take over to guide the chopper. "There's no fly-by wire, there's nobody remote controlling, so most of the intelligence has to be done on the platform," explains Dev Sign, GM of robotics, drones, and intelligent machines at Qualcomm to TNW.


In other words, the Qualcomm Flight Program platform will process the information secured by the helicopter's two cameras and multiple sensors. This data is then fed into the algorithms that guide the chopper's movements across the Red Planet. If there's any obstacle, the system is powerful enough to adjust the controls, while the team on Earth guides it.

Chris Pruetting, the senior director of business development for Qualcomm Government Technologies says, "Our entire flight model is based on the sensors onboard as well as the computer vision - what I like to call flight by sight."

This Outdated Smartphone Chipset Is Driving NASA Ingenuity Chopper

Delays With Ingenuity Helicopter

As incredible as the entire process sounds, there are still several hurdles the chopper needs to overcome. Firstly, there seems to be a flight delay once again due to a software update. The outdated Snapdragon 801 is quite phenomenal in running the Ingenuity rover, however, it still requires a couple of software updates.

Nevertheless, the photos captured and processed by the Ingenuity rover have brought in a wave of excitement back on Earth. It's enabled astronauts and enthusiasts to better understand the Red Planet, which will further help in physically exploring it shortly.

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