The International Space Station receives a flying assistant this weekend: CIMON (Crew Interactive MObile companioN ). That is an AI that is run by IBM’s Watson supercomputer and that floats in space in the form of a flattened sphere. The assistant is as big as a volleyball and has, as you can see, a display at the front, to make it all more human. All in all, the thing weighs five kilos, but weightlessness ensures that this is not a problem.
CIMON can listen, talk, see and react to the human crew on the ISS and because the AI has so much power behind it the device is also getting smarter and better in handling as it interacts more with the crew members. It is also an experiment to see how astronauts respond to an AI assistant on board. A physicist who is attached to the German Aerospace Center adds jokingly: “there is also an ‘off’ button on the robot, so we can not get HAL states .”
Airbus hopes that CIMON can become a real colleague for the astronauts. A number of tasks have already been mapped out for the AI, including assisting with a complicated medical experiment. The AI can also show instructions for procedures that the astronauts have to do on the space station. The idea is that routine tasks are made easier and more efficient because CIMON is there and there is less chance of errors. The AI can also serve as an early warning system for technical problems. In any case, the astronauts are looking forward to it, so we expect to have the first videos from CIMON and his new best friends from the ISS within the week.