The European Space Agency (ESA) wants you to play video games with flying drones so it can develop better space robots. A free app that runs on the iPhone or iPad lets owners of Parrot AR.Drone quadricopters navigate their remote-controlled robots to perform dockings on a simulation of the International Space Station. Using crowdsourcing, the ESA figures it will arrive faster at improved methods for robotic docking strategies.
The new AstroDrone app is part of a larger ESA project run by its Advanced Concepts Team. This Artificial Intelligence project aims at collecting data via crowdsourcing about how robots navigate their environments. In particular, it's aimed at improving robots' abilities to autonomously estimate distances to other objects, a skillset clearly needed in the complex task of docking in space.
Crowdsourcing is a creative method for research (and people love competitive "games") - but how will capturing data from individuals docking tell HOW they accomplished the feat? Did they use motion induced parallax, the growing size of the target, distortions in the shape as the viewing angle changed, or something else to achieve accuracy?