An 11-pound, artificially-intelligent, floating robot head is being sent to the International Space Station (ISS) this week to assist astronauts there, IBM executives announced today.
The astronaut assistant is named CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) is the product of a joint project between the German Aerospace Center, Airbus, and International Business Machines Corporation, better known as IBM.
The group project developed and integrated artificial intelligence (AI) components into CIMON and have been training it to demonstrate a personality.
CIMON is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket bound for the ISS on June 29 at 5:41 am EST, and is set to arrive there on Monday, July 2 – when it will join the Horizons mission as an astronaut companion to ISS Commander Alexander Gerst.
“CIMON’s task is to assist astronauts on the ISS,” Matthias Biniok — who led IBM’s AI Project — told ABC News in an email.
”Also,” he added, “CIMON is tasked with being a friendly colleague.”
A video provided by IBM shows CIMON conversing with Matthias Biniok, who led the development of the the space robot’s AI.
“Yes, that is actually how we train CIMON,” Biniok told ABC News. “By talking with it, we are continuously improving its understanding. It’s always a pleasure talking with CIMON since it can express emotions and respond to you accordingly.”
The English-speaking CIMON can see via cameras, hear via microphones, understand, talk and fly in zero gravity via propulsion, according to IBM executives. It is tuned to recognize ISS commander Gerst’s face and his voice.
“CIMON will use IBM Watson technologies to assist Commander Gerst in carrying out scientific work and including experiments and will conduct video documentation as a flying webcam,” according to a statement from IBM. “In the future, CIMON could serve as an early warning system in case of technical problems.”
Besides helping out with space work, CIMON is also designed to be able to engage in small talk with astronauts.
The statement said that CIMON is “tuned to relate to the astronaut, so if the astronaut says I miss my family – which we have [Biniok] saying, CIMON responds with a more compassionate tone and a suggestion on how to help.”
CIMON’s personality includes an understanding of language, linguistics, and space lingo on the ISS, IBM executives said. If, for instance, an astronauts uses the word ‘Afirm’, short for affirmative instead of yes, CIMON is trained to understand that.
For all the robot’s impressive capablities, its space shot is likely to be a one-way trip.
“CIMON has no come-back date as of yet,” Biniok said. “Hopefully, CIMON will stay there and help many astronauts in their tasks at the ISS.”