Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will soon have a new crew member to interact with, a ball-sized robot dubbed ‘Cimon’.
Watson is coming to the International Space Station. The artificial intelligence out of IBM has found a partner in the European Airbus to create an AI meant specifically for living on the ISS. It’s called the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, or CIMON.
“In short, CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system,” says Manfred Jaumann, Head of Microgravity Payloads from Airbus in a press statement. “We are the first company in Europe to carry a free flyer, a kind of flying brain, to the ISS and to develop artificial intelligence for the crew on board the space station.”
CIMON is around the size of a medicine ball and weighs around 11 pounds (5 kg). Its entire structure, made up of plastic and metal, was created using 3D printing.
First conceived of in August 2016, CIMON has been built with one specific astronaut in mind from the beginning. Airbus worked with German astronaut Alexander Gerst in everything from training CIMON to recognize his voice to the AI’s graphic interface.
After CIMON’s functional testing is complete, Gerst will take it into space where it will begin helping him in three test runs: experimenting with crystals, working together to solve a Rubik’s cube and performing a complex medical experiment using CIMON as a flying camera.
CIMON will only have limited features in its initial voyage into space, which could come as early as next month. Its basic testing will consist of optimizing what are known as GNC algorithms (guidance, navigation and control). But researchers have hopes that it, or some equivalent, would be able to accompany astronauts on longer journeys into space in the future.
Although Watson hasn’t always matched its tremendous hype, its framework should provide a good guide for creating a usable assistant in space. If it can get that Rubik’s cube down with Gerst, then it will be one step closer to becoming a sidekick for future astronauts everywhere.