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New AI Device Will Listen For Mechanical Problems Aboard International Space Station

Scott Kelly
This June 4, 2015 photo made available by NASA shows the Cupola, a 360 degree observation area and remote control location for grappling, docking and undocking spacecraft on the International Space Station.

A device created in Pittsburgh will be sent to the International Space Station next month. SoundSee, developed by technology company Bosch, uses artificial intelligence to detect mechanical problems based on sound. The project is in collaboration with Pittsburgh-based space robotics company, Astrobotic.

Most machines make some sort of sound, even if it's a barely detectable hum. SoundSee's artificial intelligence learns what noises are normal, and when a sound changes, it sends an alert to the appropriate person. 

Aboard the International Space Station, or ISS, SoundSee will float around and collect data about the normal sounds of machines.

Credit Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
The SoundSee device, which is scheduled to take off for the International Space Station next month.

"And then, we use the AI to spot subtle changes in system behavior," said project lead Samarjit Das.

Astronauts have a lot to do up on the ISS: they conduct scientific experiments, perform maintenance operations and exercise for two-and-a-half hours each day. They also periodically have to do the kind of acoustic measurements that SoundSee would automate.

Jonathan Macoskey, a research scientist with the SoundSee team, said the device could also be useful on the ground, in factories for example.

"Using this technology, we'll be able to understand maybe some machine is about to fail, and then we could help the company understand maybe they should start replacing it or repairing it," Macoskey said. 

SoundSee's upcoming space voyage is meant to test the device, so the team can learn what works and what can be improved. Testing will also take place terrestrially, at Bosch's Pittsburgh office.