A network of Autonomous Robotic Observatories (ARO). Each ARO is controlled by smartphone, which either directs an Arduino to drive the stepper motors of a basic telescope, or sends commands directly to telescope's drive, to point then track in a direction and speed for a duration. The AROs are directed by 1 Global ARO Co-Ordinator. It transmits the tracking data. Basic AROs are simple, to encourage anyone to get involved, but they can add modules to make their ARO(s) smarter, take pictures etc

This project is solving the Asteroid Watchers challenge.


AROs are essentially created by combining a telescope with a smartphone. If the telescope has drive motors can be controlled via a standard protocol, it is controlled by the SkyWatch app on the smartphone. Telescopes with no drive motors of their own need to have these and a controlling Arduino added. We plan to create or adopt a small reference / demo model of this an a open source hardware and software sub-project, where the smartphone controls the Arduino to operate this telescope's stepper motors.

All AROs, their location and capabilities are registered in the Global ARO Co-Ordinator (GAROC) database.

Basic Variant: This version allows the ARO owner to build the hardware and get it up and running and connected into the SkyWatch network. The focus here is to get various simple, low-power home-built and commonly sourced telescopes into the network, for maximum global participation. The system caters for telescopes that are driven with standard controller protocols, and also simple telescopes that have stepper motors driving it via an Arduino. We will create or adopt a reference model of this latter type.

The basic ARO receives messages in via an app running on a smartphone which controls the telescope. this is a one-way communications system: the ARO does not communication back out. This allows for manual (ie eyeball) observation only. The ARO owner is separately messaged via email and SMS that their ARO is activated. The ARO emits a warning sound and flashes for the time that it is tracking, as directed by the GAROC.

Once owners have got these basic AROs up and running, many might decide to extend their capability.

Extended Capability Variants: An ARO can be upgraded to more advanced variants. All these variants are capable of two way communication between them and the GAROC (the Global ARO Controller). As each extra sensor is added to an ARO and its Arduino is reprogrammed to control its additional capability, the relevant configuration information is sent out to the GAROC. The ARO modules give the ARO the extended capabilities, such as to return image data, to operate in a very remote location, and to send back its own position, a zone map to show its zone of capture, and its current visibility in real-time. This results in smarter AROs, and images of the sky can be transmitted from them. The modules providing the additional capabilities are ...

  • Camera module: Takes snapshots or motion video and transmits these back to an image server.

  • SkyZone module: ARO reports its viewable zone, ie reducing what it can see due to hills, trees, buildings etc

  • ImageQuality module: ARO reports realtime visibility. An image map/snapshot is taken by a camera mounted to look through the telescope. The pixels of the image are read, in a similar way to how our TechSpace webcams work out the brightness of our camera images. This module will need the addition of a more powerful processing node, eg a PC, Raspberry Pi, or BeagleBone etc to perform the processing.

  • Remote ARO: Communicates via SMS, wifi, RF etc, and is especially suited for power via solar/batteries. This allows the ARO to be located remotely, eg out in the country, for city-dwelling owners of AROs.

  • Local grid module: subnetwork of AROC, each controlling a grid of AROs. These AROCs will provide staged storage of volumes of image data. The nodes could be the same PC, Raspberry Pi, or BeagleBone (the likely preferred open-source option) as above, as per the owner's preference, but all running Linux.

All hardware and software components of this system will be open source.

Project Information

License: GNU General Public License version 3.0 (GPL-3.0)

Source Code/Project URL:



  • Mark Voevodin
  • Matt Paine
  • Steve Dalton
  • David Tangye