Alexander Gerst, the German astronaut will hop on his second six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in June. And this time he will have an interesting companion with him: CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion), an intelligent, floating robot powered by IBM Watson.
Developed by Airbus on behalf of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), this orb shaped robot is kind of a flying volleyball with an expressive digital face. Together with Gerst, it will do science stuff on space.
Using IBM’s Watson technology, CIMON will conduct an experiment with crystal growth in space, solve a Rubik’s cube based on videos and conduct a complex medical experiment being an intelligent flying camera. Besides, it will act as a digital assistant and will help Gerst solve basic problems. In case of any technical problem in the future, it can also serve as an early warning system.
“CIMON’s digital face, voice and use of artificial intelligence make it a “colleague” to the crew members. This collegial “working relationship” facilitates how astronauts work through their prescribed checklists of experiments, now entering into a genuine dialogue with their interactive assistant,” IBM wrote in its blog post.
How it learns
CIMON is currently being trained to recognize Gerst’s voice and face, as well as “non-Gerst” images. The team is also training it to be able to retrieve particular information and findings. The robot follows Gerst with the help of an air-propulsion system.
There will be a stand-alone version of IBM Watson AI in CIMON’s memory bank, which means no internet connection is required to solve problems, interpret data, as well as respond to commands.
Gerst will unpack this robot in June and will use it through October. As life in space could be stressful in a long-term mission, having an intelligent digital companion may reduce the stress.