A SpaceX Dragon capsule is carrying a new cache of items to the International Space Station, among them being a small spherical robot named CIMON. Designed as a companion for researchers located on the ISS, CIMON will float around the space station as a “cyber colleague” that uses artificial intelligence to assistant astronauts. Not familiar with the robot? Here are the five big things to know.
1. CIMON is an assistant
CIMON stands for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, its name hinting at its purpose: to assist the ISS crew via its AI abilities. The device is voice-controlled and designed to aid astronauts so that both of their hands are free to perform tasks. CIMON includes “eyes” for seeing and “ears” for hearing; it can understand language and respond back with its own voice thanks to IBM Watson tech.
2. He’s fully autonomous
This small robot is autonomous thanks to a combination of artificial intelligence, sensors, and a dozen internal fans. Those fans in particular are used to enable movement in all directions in the ISS’s micro-gravity environment. As well, and perhaps not surprising considering CIMON was designed with a “face,” the robot is capable of shaking its head and nodding.
3. And he’s German — sorta
CIMON is, in a sense, German. The robot was created by Airbus, a European company that was awarded a contract for it by Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR for short. That’s the German Aerospace Center; the funding came from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy
4. ISS is only the beginning
The DLR has indicated that CIMON is merely the first generation in what could one day be a full lineage of spherical robots…and they may be found in more places than space. The agency said that in the future, we may see similar future models in a variety of industries, including within schools and medical facilities.
5. Land models will (likely) have a body
CIMON is a floating head due to the nature of navigating on the ISS. Unlike on Earth, astronaut and objects float on the space station, making a typical rolling robotic body unsuitable. However, future versions of CIMON won’t be able to float when deployed on Earth, meaning those robotics heads will likely be attached to a similarly robotic body.
CIMON was launched earlier today by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and it is now on its way to the International Space Station in a Dragon capsule. Once it arrives, the robot will float itself around using a dozen fans, providing assistance anywhere it is needed.