Moving us all one step closer to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tesla's SpaceX is sending a robotic companion to the International Space Station on its next resupply mission.
Shaped like a flattened ball with a face, the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON), developed by IBM, Airbus and the German Aerospace Centre, can speak, respond to speech and fly. Yes, the odd, smiling robot can fly.
Rather than going crazy and trying to kill everyone in the name of the mission, CIMON will act as a hands-free assistant for the astronauts aboard the ISS. It is designed to display repair instructions on-screen and can record video documentation, recognise faces and ‘see' using multiple cameras. It will also serve as a database for the station.
Using elements of IBM's Watson AI, CIMON will be able to interact with the crew on a deeper level than simple information-gathering. It will use Watson to process text, speech and images, find specific information and knowledge and even interpret moods and feelings.
CIMON's body is formed of 3D-printed metal and plastic. As well as the cameras, it uses ultrasonic sensors for collision detection, microphones to listen to commands and a loudspeaker to talk or play music. The flight in microgravity is enabled by 14 internal fans, which will enable the machine to move, rotate and even nod or shake its ‘head'.
Before being utilised fully, CIMON will need to pass a few tests when it arrives at the ISS next month. German astronaut Alexander Gerst will put the robot through its paces using crystals and a Rubik's cube, as well as a medical experiment where CIMON will act as a flying camera.
Even after passing these tests, the robot will not have its full capabilities unlocked immediately. Till Eisenberg, CIMON project lead at Airbus Friedrichshafen, said:
"In the medium-term, we want to concentrate on group effects that develop in small teams over a long period of time and can occur during long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. Social interaction between humans and machines, and between astronauts and emotionally intelligent flight attendants could play an important role in the success of these missions."
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