SpaceX sends AI robot ‘crew member’ to join astronauts on space station

AI project lead of CIMON speaks with CIMON a mobile astronaut robot which is able to listen understand and respond in natural language with humans

AI project lead of CIMON speaks with CIMON a mobile astronaut robot which is able to listen understand and respond in natural language with humans

The Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, or CIMON, is an English-speaking droid, roughly the size of a basketball, that will help German astronaut Alexander Gerst conduct experiments on the International Space Station (ISS). Super-caffeinated coffee is also flying up for the space station's java-craving crew.

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Researchers say CIMON is not yet trained to respond to all possible emergencies and protocols on the space station.

Cimon's human handlers promised the first AI space bot will behave itself and said there would be no mutinous takeovers like HAL from the 1968 film classic 2001: A Space Odyssey'. Alexander Gerst, a German astronaut now aboard the ISS, helped design CIMON's screen prompts and vocal controls.

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.

When Gerst calls to CIMON, the floating robot will acoustically sense where Gerst is calling from, orient itself that way, and zoom over. It also has an on-screen face that can seemingly change its expression, a feature Airbus hopes will make CIMON seem like a genuine "colleague" to ISS astronauts.

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The metal and plastic intelligent robot, built using 3D printing, works together with people as a team, and allows astronauts to communicate hands-free via voice commands.

Next year, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano will be Cimon's orbital master.

Philipp Schulien, a German engineer for CIMON's hardware contractor, Airbus, said extending astronauts' abilities in space is imperative for future space exploration journeys, like the crewed missions to Mars that are scheduled to take off as early as 2020. CIMON smiles when the mood is upbeat, and frowns or cries when things are sad.

The entire project, barely two years in the making, came in under 5 million Euros, or $5.8 million.

NASA will hold a live broadcast of the spacecraft's rendezvous, capture and installation with the ISS on July 2.

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