Lauren Egts has spent the last three years interning for NASA, where she has worked on a range of quirky and exciting projects.
The BCSI (Boot Cuff Surface Imager) is her latest project. It uses a Raspberry Pi Camera Module and a gyroscope to take close-up photographs of the floor.
This project was written by Lucy Hattersley and appears in The MagPi 54.
This project is a modern take on a NASA device called the ALSCC (Apollo Lunar Surface Closeup Camera). This camera went all the way to the moon and back.
“The ALSCC was designed by Thomas Gold, a British scientist,” explains Lauren.
“[He] created it to view surface material from the moon. The images that the ALSCC brought back to Earth show what the surface of the moon looks like from eleven inches up. This is about the equivalent of an Apollo astronaut putting his faceplate to the lunar surface and looking at it.”
NASA don’t want close-ups of the moon’s soil for the fun of it, says Lauren: “It was used to discover more information about the moon’s surface and structure. These are things that lunar soil brought back to Earth can’t show because it has been disturbed.
“The ALSCC had a right and left lens that took a picture at the same time and from those 2D pairs of images, scientists back on Earth were able to create 3D pictures of the moon’s surface.”
The 3D effect enabled scientists to analyse the surface of the moon back on Earth.
Building the BCSI at NASA
“The concept of BCSI is very similar to ALSCC,” says Lauren. “They both take up-close pictures of soil.”
Thanks to modern components, the BCSI is much smaller than the ALSCC. And smart components like the Raspberry Pi automate the process of taking photographs.
“The BCSI is meant to sit on the ankle of an astronaut’s boot,” explains Lauren. It automatically detects deceleration with a gyroscope each time an astronaut takes a step. “Once deceleration is detected, the program that runs on the Raspberry Pi triggers the Camera Module.
“Of course, on the moon or Mars, there wouldn’t be as much gravity, so the trigger value to take a picture would be much different,” she reveals. “But through testing I’ve determined a consistent value that returns clear pictures.”
Working for NASA
Lauren worked hard to get her NASA internship. “I met my mentor, Herb Schilling, at a Mini Maker Faire where I was presenting on Scratch,” says Lauren. “He invited me to come shadow him at his lab at NASA for a day.”
After the shadow, he invited her to intern at the lab for a few weeks that summer; she came back the next summer and the next.
“A friend of my mentor had heard about the ALSCC and thought that it would be interesting to create a modern version of it,” recalls Lauren.
“I had a good idea of what I wanted the design to look like. I decided to sacrifice a pair of socks to science and use them to create the next version of BCSI. The sock prototype was much more robust but couldn’t be used in the field, so I ended up getting an off-the-shelf pair of rainboots and attaching the BCSI to one of them.”
Lauren tells us that working at NASA is a lot of fun. “I think my favourite part of the lab is the people. We range in age from high schoolers to graduate students, but we all have one thing in common: we love technology.”