By Barry Eitel
An artificial intelligence-powered robot tasked with assisting astronauts was launched into space for the first time ever Friday to join the crew of the International Space Station.
Roughly the size of a volleyball and weighing 5 kilograms, CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) will float through the zero-gravity environment of the space station because of a system of fans.
CIMON is able to answer voice commands and can research a database of information about the ISS. The robot can even assess the moods of its human crewmates and interact with them accordingly.
“An observational pilot study with the [CIMON] aims to provide first insights into the effects of crew support from an artificial intelligence in terms of efficiency and acceptance during long-term missions in space,” NASA said in a statement Friday after the successful launch.
CIMON was launched from Florida by a SpaceX rocket along with food and supplies for the crew aboard the ISS.
CIMON was built by European aerospace company Airbus for the space agency of Germany. The artificial intelligence inside was powered by IBM. Alexander Gerst, a German astronaut currently aboard the ISS, helped design CIMON’s screen prompts and vocal controls. Using its 14 internal fans, CIMON can accelerate toward any astronaut calling its name and can appear to “nod” to show understanding of a command.
Manfred Jaumann, the head of microgravity payloads at Airbus, described CIMON as “a kind of flying brain.”
Although it speaks English, CIMON is tasked to specifically help Gerst during its first stay on the ISS, but it will be able to understand and obey the other astronauts.
CIMON will only stay in space for a few months; the robot is scheduled to return to earth in December so scientists can study and assess its abilities.