Astronauts on the ISS : AI ‘Floating-Head’ Will Join the mission


A 3D-printed artificial intelligence system, CIMON (Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN) – described by its creators as a “flying brain” – will soon join the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to assist astronauts.

The AirBus technology demonstrator, which weighs around five kilogrammes, will be tested on the ISS by German astronaut Alexander Gerst during the European Space Agency’s Horizons mission between June and October this year.
Gerst helped select CIMON’s screen face and computer voice so that he could ‘make friends’ with his electronic colleague.


“CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system,” said Manfred Jaumann, Head of Microgravity Payloads from Airbus.

“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,” said Jaumann.

CIMON has a brain-like AI network made up of plastic and metal and is designed to support astronauts in performing routine work, for example by displaying procedures or offering solutions to problems.

With its face, voice and artificial intelligence, becomes a genuine ‘colleague’ on board.

Crew members can do more than just work through a schematic view of prescribed checklists and procedures; they can also engage with their assistant.

CIMON makes work easier for the astronauts when carrying out every day routine tasks, helps to increase efficiency, facilitates mission success and improves security, as it can also serve as an early warning system for technical problems.

The Watson AI was trained using voice samples and photos of Gerst, and procedures and plans of the Columbus module of the ISS were loaded into the database.

CIMON weighs about 11 lbs. (5 kilograms) and is already “training” with an astronaut — Alexander Gerst, who represented the European Space Agency (ESA) on the ISS from May to November 2014. Gerst will return to the ISS, bringing CIMON along, from June to October 2018, on ESA’s Horizons mission.

Since 2016, a team of 50 technicians has been working to prepare the AI for its trip into space, feeding it data about the ISS and ensuring that the robot can orient itself and move freely.

At the same time that CIMON was learning about the layout of the ISS, it was also becoming familiar with its astronaut colleague Gerst, through photos and voice samples.

Once CIMON is in space, astronauts and the AI will work together on a series of tasks that includes working with crystals, solving a Rubik’s Cube and performing a medical experiment in which CIMON will serve as an interactive camera, Airbus representatives said in the statement.


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