SpaceX recently successfully launched a recycled Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station (ISS). The rocket was carrying approximately 6,000 pounds of cargo containing food and water, genetically identical mice, super-caffeinated coffee, and a new experimental robot with an animated cartoon face. Dubbed CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion), the AI is the first interactive flight companion to be part of an ISS mission. Once CIMON is on board, he will serve as an AI-based assistant for the astronauts.
CIMON represents an attempt to determine whether robots and astronauts can work together harmoniously. This AI is a joint project of IBM and Airbus for the German national space agency. One of the engineers for the AI stated that the primary objective of this project is to provide support for the astronauts as they perform their daily task and save them time, since time is valuable and extremely expensive on the ISS. On top of improving crew efficiency, the AI is also expected to help boost their morale during longer missions.
Space Flight and Artificial Technology
The AI is equipped with microphones and cameras which enable it to recognize Alexander Gerst, the German astronaut that it is designed to assist. Gerst arrived on the ISS a month ago and is tasked with leading the project. CIMON is already familiar with Gerst’s face and voice, so the AI will be working primarily with him at the initial phase of the project. However like most AIs which have the best tools & apps that you can find online, CIMON is able to continuously improve its understanding.
Unfortunate CIMON does not have any arms or legs, so it cannot provide assistance on any physical tasks. It can, however, float and fly in zero gravity through propulsion. It is round-shaped and does not have any sharp edges, which makes it safer for the crew members to have the AI around as they are working. It has a screen which it can use to display repair instructions. It is also capable of searching for objects on the ISS.
CIMON also speaks English since it has a language interface allowing the crew members to easily engage in verbal communication. The AI is designed to be a friendly colleague. For instance, it can engage the astronauts in small talk and look up things online like a Sephora or an AliExpress. It has been programmed with a personality that sensing, judging, thinking, and introverted. Its face is designed to make it more personable and make it easier for the astronauts to engage him in conversation.
The AI’s personality also involves an understanding of language, linguistics, and space lingo on the ISS. This means that when a crew member, for example, uses the word “Afirm” instead of yes, the AI can easily understand what the word means. CIMON is also designed to relate to the astronauts. This means that when an astronaut says, for example, that he misses his family, CIMON can respond with a compassionate tone and recommendations on how to make the situation better. It is also able to sense the mood of an ongoing conversation. CIMON’s face smiles when the mood is positive, and frowns or cries when it is sad.