Airbus designed CIMON as a mobile, intelligent, interactive astronaut assistant. (Image credit: NASA via Wikipedia)


German astronaut Alexander Gerst is set to head to the International Space Station for a six-month mission beginning in June, taking on the role as Commander for Expedition 57. He’s also bringing some unusual cargo with him- an 11-pound medicine ball-sized AI assistant known as CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion).


Currently being developed by Airbus along with the German Aerospace Center, CIMON will function as an intelligent, mobile, interactive assistance platform as part of the European Space Agency’s Horizons mission and is set to help Gerst perform three experiments while aboard the ISS, including one involving crystals, another to try and solve a Rubik’s Cube (based on videos it watches) and acting as an intelligent flying camera while an elaborate medical experiment is being performed.


CIMON is powered by IBM’s Watson system and will be the first AI-based platform on the ISS. (Image credit: Airbus)


Airbus designed CIMON with a 3D printed metal and plastic casing, which houses all of its electronics, including a digital interface screen as well as an internal air-propulsion system that will let it move about the ISS on its own. The roving, autonomous assistant’s brain is powered by IBM’s Watson system along with speech and learning algorithms to help facilitate crew interaction. In fact, it’s already learned to recognize and respond to Gerst, making it easier to carry out those planned experiments.


According to Airbus, astronauts will be able to use CIMON for more than just an intelligent platform to go over routine checklists with and will be able to ‘engage’ with it, like a form of camaraderie between coworkers, thanks to its digital voice and LED face, which Airbus states will help increase efficiency, facilitate mission success and can improve security by acting as an early warning system for tech problems.


While CIMON will only be evaluated while performing those first experiments, Airbus also has plans to use the platform for additional uses in the near future- “In the medium term, aerospace researchers also plan to use the CIMON project to examine group effects that can develop over a long period of time in small teams, and that may arise during long-term missions to the Moon or Mars. Social interaction between people and machines, between astronauts and assistance systems equipped with emotional intelligence, could play an important role in the success of long-term missions. Airbus’ developers are convinced that, here on Earth, developments of the assistance system could also find future use in hospitals and social care.”


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