Okay, so how do I write an article about an AI assistant in space without comparing it all to HAL 9000 the artificial antagonist in Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series? Well, I got one quote for you: “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Airbus has been working with IBM’s Watson AI and built an artificial assistant/companion for space flight crews. The 3D-printed AI sphere is called CIMON, which stands for Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN, and has the objective to support the astronauts during their stay on space stations like the ISS.
Easy-to-access power switch, you know, just in case
And before you get worried, unlike the computer-gone-rogue HAL 9000, CIMON has a power switch right on his back so it can be swiftly switched off, if ever, things go awry. At least the human crew can stay in control that way, but of course, nobody is currently thinking about an evil AI to harm humans.
Manfred Jaumann, the head of microgravity payloads from Airbus, stated, “In short, CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system,”… “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.”
What can CIMON do?
CIMON will be able to display manuals and provide references to the station crew as they perform tasks. While it’s unclear how sophisticated the neural network of the CIMON AI really is, it is said to machine-learn over time and might be able to offer solutions to problems. If CIMON manages to acquire and evaluate sufficient data, he might also be able to act as an early warning system for technical problems or just go fix them on his own, if possible.
They have also given CIMON an artificial face, so he appears to be owning a personality and not being only a computer system. The facial design is quite generic, however, and I am confident they could have gone for a more state-of-the-art way to simulate a face.
How useful or not CIMON will turn out to be is up for the crew to decide. A free flying brain robot in space is indeed exciting but perhaps not that advanced as one would hope for when hearing names like Airbus, IBM, and ISS. I look forward to hearing more about CIMON and his space adventures hopefully soon.
YouTube: Robot in space: Alexander Gerst and CIMON head for the ISS | DW English
Photo credit: All the images have been provided by Airbus.
Source: Airbus press release