As you probably already know, space is full of crap. It's not something the average Joe thinks about, but when the government starts blowing dead satellites out of the sky, it may be time to start worrying whether or not the gadget that brings soft-core pornography to your TV will end up crushing you as you mow the lawn. Researchers at Queen's University are jumping in to help with the problem by developing a robotic repair system that will service the approx. 8000 satellites currently orbiting the Earth. Keep in mind that about only around 800 of those satellites are currently operational.
The core of the system will involve tracking software that alerts a Autonomous Space Servicing Vehicle (ASSV) to a satellites location. Once found, it will draw the device into its bay where humans on the ground can conduct remote-controlled repairs. So far, the main obstacle to the development of the ASSV has been computer vision. Any robot attempting to grab a satellite must not only locate the device but determine and match its motion before making a move. To aid in that situation, the researchers will employ a form of light-based radar called LIDAR, "which provides a set of 3D points that accurately measure the surface geometry of the satellite." The video above illustrates this real-time tracking sequence. So far, there is no word on when such a system might be deployed. [Queens University via Science Daily]