An AI robot is now crewing the International Space Station (ISS.) Known as CIMON, the robot recently came on-line and had its first interaction with an astronaut in space. Read on to see how CIMON’s first day at work on board Earth’s orbiting laboratory went.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, CIMON is a ball-shaped, floating robot built by IBM and Airbus for the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The machine was designed to follow the astronauts around and assist them in their daily tasks as the first AI-based mission on board the ISS.
On November 16, CIMON opened its eyes in space for the very first time and had its first off-planet conversation with ISS commander Alexander Gerst. The German astronaut had trained with the AI robot back on Earth prior to his spaceflight to the orbital outpost in early June, so CIMON was already programmed to recognize Gert’s face and voice.
Their first contact in space was caught on camera for the benefit of posterity and proved that CIMON is not only a useful addition to the ISS crew, but also great company. The exciting video, released by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Friday, shows the robot flawlessly following (some) commands, showing off its free-flying abilities, and even playing Gerst’s favorite song, “Man Machine” by Kraftwerk — a very fitting choice, given the occasion.
“Straight out of a sci-fi movie? Not yet, but a successful first technology demonstration of a DLR experiment, designed to test what future human-robot interaction might look like in space. And CIMON even plays Kraftwerk on command!” the ESA astronaut wrote on Twitter.
According to Airbus, CIMON “passed its first tests in space with flying colors.” Short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, the floating bot is an experimental technology that uses IBM artificial intelligence software and was built to help astronauts with their extensive workload, keep them company, and boost morale.
The robot is about the size of a medicine ball, weighs 11 pounds, and is essentially a flying brain that connects to the IBM Watson super-computer, which processes the astronauts’ commands and helps CIMON talk to its human crewmates and follow their instructions.
“If CIMON is asked a question or addressed, the Watson AI firstly converts this audio signal into text, which is understood, or interpreted, by the AI. IBM Watson not only understands content in context, it can also understand the intention behind it,” explains IBM project lead Matthias Biniok. “The result is a tailored answer, which is converted into speech and then sent back to the ISS, enabling a natural, dynamic spoken dialogue.”
“Hello, my name is CIMON!” Baptism of fire in space: #CIMON's world premiere with @astro_alex on the #ISS. Watch the entire video with our Artificial Intelligence technology demonstration #MadeInGermany here: https://t.co/c6xU4ORNc1@esaspaceflight #horizons pic.twitter.com/db18EpAGfL— DLR - English (@DLR_en) November 30, 2018
During their first-ever conversation in space, which lasted a good 90 minutes and took place in the ISS Columbus module, CIMON helped Gerst with a procedure for a science experiment by displaying instructions on the screen that doubles as its “face” and recorded footage of the astronaut with its integrated cameras.
The AI robot proved to be quite skilled at small talk as it conversed with Gerst about space and about music. However, some of its reactions were a bit bizarre, as noticed by CNet. For instance, the bot wouldn’t stop playing music and even accused Gerst of being mean at some point during their conversation.
“Be nice, please,” CIMON told Gerst, following up with “Please don’t be so mean.”
The ISS commander seemed to get a kick out of it, though NASA astronaut Serena Aunon-Chancellor did initially throw her colleague an astonished look before she eventually burst into laughter.
What do robots eat? Do robots have feelings? Is Alexander mean? Find out more during an interesting conversation between @Astro_Alex and #CIMON on our first AI technology demonstration on the #ISS. The sequence is an excerpt from: https://t.co/c6xU4P9o3z #horizons @esaspaceflight pic.twitter.com/kEd70LbYOX— DLR - English (@DLR_en) November 30, 2018
CIMON first arrived aboard the ISS on June 29. The AI robot was shipped to the orbital outpost on a SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel during the company’s 15th resupply mission to the space station. Since then, CIMON has been patiently waiting to be activated.
“It is an incredible feeling and absolutely fantastic to be able to experience CIMON actually seeing, hearing, understanding and speaking. This first, real deployment in space has made aerospace history, and marks the start of what will hopefully be a long deployment on the ISS,” Dr. Christian Karrasch, CIMON project manager at the DLR, said in a statement.
The full video of CIMON’s first day at work is available at the link below.
Once the 90-minute experiment was over, Gerst returned the floating bot to its place in the Columbus module. But — in the words of a more famous robotic figure — CIMON “will be back” to perform more tests during Gerst’s stay on the ISS.