Today, SpaceX launched its 15th cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA using its very own Falcon 9 rocket which has been used earlier as well. The rocket lifted off today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying about 2500 kgs of supply for the crew members but what caught everyone’s eye was sphere-shaped, AI-enabled robot which was sent along.
It’s a German robot made by Airbus and IBM — named CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) after a genius doctor in science fiction’s “Captain Future”. It’s not the first time a robot is sent to join astronauts as robotic assistants, previously free-flying spheres and Robonaut 2 has been sent to the station but what makes the difference between them and CIMON is that CIMON is the first bot built to converse with human crew members, thanks to IBM’s Watson artificial-intelligence technology. CIMON is equipped with 14 internal fans that propel the white ball, by sucking in the station’s air and expelling it to move in whatever direction it needs.
Now you will ask what’s the need of sending a robot as a crew member, well the aim is to see whether intelligent bots can cooperate with astronauts to simplify work life in space. CIMON has been tested and trained a few times on Earth with German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who is already on board the ISS. So the bot’s microphones and cameras are specially tuned to recognize his voice and face. However, CIMON’s makers say the bot’s voice-controlled AI capabilities, provided by IBM, allow the companion to interact with an astronaut that calls its name. It will help Gerst to conduct crystal experiments, solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle based on videos, and serve as an intelligent flying camera for medical experiments.
So in conclusion, CIMON is an experiment just to see if AI-powered robotic assistants are actually able to help astronauts in future.