A robotic assistant recently returned to Earth after spending just over a year on the International Space Station (ISS).
CIMON (pronounced “Simon” and short for Crew Interactive Mobile companiON) returned with other cargo aboard SpaceX’s CRS-18 spacecraft last week.
For those not in the know, CIMON was developed by Airbus and IBM in collaboration with Germany’s DLR space agency. The robot is essentially an advanced floating computer and features a simply drawn face on the monitor to encourage more realistic communication. Described by a member of the Airbus team as “a kind of flying brain,” the A.I.-powered device is designed to interact with astronauts while behaving like a regular member of the crew.
“CIMON makes work easier for the astronauts when carrying out everyday routine tasks,” Airbus said of the robot, adding that it can “increase efficiency, facilitates mission success, and improves security, as it can also serve as an early warning system for technical problems.”
The robot’s recent deployment was notable for being the first form of A.I. to spend time on the ISS, and by all accounts seems to have been a success.
“CIMON is a technology demonstration that has completely met our expectation,” Christian Karrasch, CIMON Project Manager at the German Aerospace Center, said in a release.
Karrasch added that the robot assistant demonstrated during testing that it’s able to interact with astronauts and recognize their faces, as well as find its own way through the sprawling space station using 12 internal fans for flight in the microgravity conditions.
“With CIMON, we were able to lay the foundations for human assistance systems in space to support astronauts in their tasks and perhaps, in the future, to take over some of their work,” the project manager said.
CIMON Mark II
The mission went so well that the team is already developing a more advanced version with better flight control and improvements to CIMON’s A.I. smarts.
The plan is to deliver the upgraded CIMON to the ISS in December 2019 for further testing with astronauts.
It’s worth pointing out that that CIMON wasn’t the first robot to visit the space station. In its 20-year history, the space lab has also hosted Japan’s Kirobo, a floating camera sphere called Int-Ball, and a humanoid robot named Robonaut.