Skip to main content

A ‘flying brain’ is going to help out on the space station this summer


Surely no space adventure — of the fictional type, at least — is complete without assistance from an A.I. character. Think HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon‘s GERTY, and Holly in the BBC’s Red Dwarf.

Well, reality looks set to catch up with science fiction this summer when the International Space Station (ISS) crew welcomes aboard CIMON, described as a “mobile and autonomous assistance system.”

Related Videos

Developed by Airbus and Germany’s DLR space agency, and powered by IBM’s Watson supercomputer, CIMON — short for Crew Interactive MObile companioN — will be the first form of artificial intelligence to arrive on the space station and will do its best to help the astronauts with a range tasks, as well as be their buddy.

CIMON will travel to the ISS with German astronaut Alexander Gerst in June, 2018, as part of the European Space Agency’s Horizons mission, and stay there until October.

It’s “a kind of flying brain”

“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 Manfred Jaumann, Airbus’s head of microgravity payloads.

In simple terms, CIMON resembles a floating computer monitor with a crudely drawn face on the display. But according to CIMON’s creators, it’s a whole lot more than that, with the team behind the 11-pound (5 kg) contraption claiming it will help solve problems while behaving like a regular crew mate.

Thanks to its A.I. smarts, the more CIMON interacts with the crew, the more it will learn about their work. It will also recognize each crew member and respond accordingly, gradually improving as an assistant to become “a genuine colleague,” as Airbus puts it.

“With CIMON, crew members can do more than just work through a schematic view of prescribed checklists and procedures; they can also engage with their assistant,” Airbus said. “In this way, CIMON makes work easier for the astronauts when carrying out everyday 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.”

Once CIMON has settled into life on the space station, Gerst will work with his A.I. assistant on three specific tasks, the most interesting of which involves performing a complex medical experiment using CIMON as an intelligent flying camera.

But Airbus’s creation won’t be the first high-tech bot to visit the ISS. Over the years, the station has also hosted Japan’s Kirobo, a floating camera sphere called Int-Ball, and a humanoid robot called Robonaut.

Editors' Recommendations

How to watch SpaceX launch its new Cargo Dragon capsule to ISS
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule lifts off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the company’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station.

CRS-26 Mission

SpaceX is gearing up to launch a newly built Cargo Dragon spacecraft on a supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, November 26.

Read more
Space Station received special visitors 22 years ago today
The International Space Station.

On this day 22 years ago, three astronauts arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) to begin what's turned out to be a continuous human presence in orbit.

Read more
Space station forced to dodge orbital debris on Monday night
The International Space Station’s solar arrays provide power for the orbiting laboratory. NASA will install a total of six new roll out solar arrays in front of the existing arrays at 1A, 2B, 3A, 3B, 4A, and 4B to augment the power. During the Aug. 24 spacewalk, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will install the modification kit on the 4A power channel, where the next new roll out solar array will be installed in 2022.

The International Space Station (ISS) has maneuvered out of the way of debris that was expected to come close to the orbital outpost on Monday night.

The ISS fired its Progress 81 thrusters fired for 5 minutes, 5 seconds at 8:25 p.m. ET in what's known as a "Pre-Determined Debris Avoidance Maneuver," NASA said. The procedure had no impact on operations at the station, where seven astronauts currently reside. Even without the maneuver, NASA said the fragment of space debris would probably have passed within about three miles of the station, but the precautionary measure ensured that an even greater distance was put between the two objects.

Read more