ISS astronauts will soon be joined by an AI robot again. Cimon-2 is the successor to the Cimon robot that was sent to the ISS in 2018. The successor, which can read emotions, is currently flying to the space station and will support the astronauts for three years.
Like the first version, Cimon-2 is the result of a collaboration between IBM, Airbus and the Deutsche Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt. The successor to the first version launched in the summer of last year builds on its predecessor. He was mainly a scientific assistant who could, for example, display repair instructions based on recognizing voice commands, but the improved AI of Cimon-2 should also make the robot an ’empathetic companion’, says Matthias Biniok, the chief designer of the German IBM division responsible for the Watson system.
According to Biniok, the first Cimon, who stayed on the ISS for 14 months and landed back on Earth on August 27, has shown that an artificial intelligence-based mobile application can be very useful on board the ISS. The original Cimon was trained to assist crew member Alexander Gerst and listen to his commands. The new robot has more sensitive microphones and a better idea of its orientation and will be deployed in the European Columbus module of the ISS.
According to Till Eisenburg of Airbus, the AI capabilities and stability of Cimon-2’s software applications have also been significantly improved. “During the operational period, we are thinking of next steps, such as uploading the AI to the ISS cloud. That would be a milestone in the gradual evolution of a fully autonomous assistance system,” Eisenberg said. According to Christian Karrasch of the German Space Center, this could lead to an AI-based service that astronauts can use on their way to Mars or the moon, without a permanent connection to Earth. He also sees applications to help people on Earth with complex tasks, for example if they live in areas with poor infrastructure.
As with the first version of the robot, IBM is responsible for implementing the AI. Biniok says that the first Cimon was able to understand not only the content of the message within a given context, but also the intent behind it. According to him, Cimon-2 goes a step further. By means of the IBM Watson Tone Analyzer, the robot can evaluate emotions of astronauts and respond to them in an adequate way, if this is desired or if the emotional analysis capabilities are tested during an experiment.
Cimon-2 has hardly been modified in design compared to the first version. It has twelve internal fans that move air so that the robot can move around the ISS. He can hear, see, speak and understand commands. For example, astronauts can request instructions, which the robot can display on its screen. The companion can also be used as a mobile camera, documenting experiments, finding objects and checking inventory. There are two cameras for facial recognition, and another five for the orientation and video documentation functions. The robot can prevent collisions by means of ultrasonic sound.
On Sunday, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule with Cimon-2 is due to arrive at the ISS. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket deployed for this purpose went well and the lower stage landed successfully on the ship Of Course i Still Love You. This was the 46th time that SpaceX had successfully landed a rocket stage.