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The International Space Station's new AI-powered bot is actually pretty cool

Composite image of CIMON showing what the bot will look like when placed on the ISS. Seems kind enough to be
Image: DLR

Introducing CIMON, a floating, basketball-sized robot that will serve as a companion and helper for crew members aboard the International Space Station. The floating bot recalls HAL with artificial intelligence 2001: A Space Odyssey is far less evil. We hope.

Today, SpaceX has successfully launched a recycled Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with a cargo of approximately 6,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS. The CRS-15 Dragon capsule contains genetically identical mice, super-caffeine coffee and other accessories as well as CIMON, the first interactive flight attendant to attend an ISS mission.

Once on board CIMON – short for Crew Interactive MObile companioN – will support the crew in their many activities. The purpose of this pilot project is to see if an artificially intelligent bot can improve the crew's efficiency and morale on longer missions, including a possible mission to Mars. In addition, the activities and tasks of ISS crewmembers are becoming more and more complicated, so an AI can help. CIMON has no arms or legs so it can not help with physical tasks, but it has a voice user interface that allows members to communicate with them. The bot can display repair instructions on its screen and even search for objects in the ISS. With a reduced workload, astronauts will hopefully experience less stress and more time to relax.

CIMON with his development team before the start.
Image: DLR

CIMON was built by Airbus on behalf of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). It has 12 internal fans that allow the bot to move in all directions while floating in weightlessness. CIMON can move freely and perform rotary movements, such as: B. shake your head back and forth. CIMON's AI speech and comprehension system is derived from IBM's Watson technology and responds to commands in English. CIMON costs less than $ 6 million for construction and less than two years for development.

The pilot project is led by DLR astronaut Alexander Gerst, who arrived at the ISS a month ago. CIMON already knows Gerst's face and voice, so the bot will work best with him, at least initially. The German astronaut will use CIMON to see if the bot will increase its efficiency and effectiveness when working on different experiments.

In fact, if CIMON floats nearby, the ISS astronauts could easily ask the bot for support what they can do by calling their name. You may request that CIMON display documents and media in its field of view or record and reproduce experiments with its on-board camera. In general, the bot should accelerate tasks on the ISS that require hands-on work.

The round robot has no sharp edges and is therefore dangerous neither to the equipment nor to the crew. Should it start to get bizarre and use its best HAL 9000 imitation to say something like, "I'm sorry, Alexander, I'm afraid I can not," the bot is equipped with a kill switch. But hopefully it will not happen; Unlike HAL, CIMON was programmed with an ISTJ personality that means "introverted, feeling, thinking and judging". The developers chose a face to make it more sympathetic and it can even feel the tone of the crew's entertainment. CIMON smiles when the mood is upbeat and frowns or cries when things are sad. It supposedly behaves like R2D2 and may even be famous science-fiction movies like E.T. the alien .

Conceptual idea of ​​what the CIMON interface might look like in a few years.
Image: 2001: A Space Odyssey

CIMON has an open invitation to stay aboard the ISS, it is likely to improve over the length of its stay and receive software updates through the IBM cloud.

Hmmm, well, that it has this kill switch.


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