Along with some berries, ice cream, and brown mice, the International Space Station also got a new crew member on July 2. This member, whose name is pronounced Simon, is unlike any other, because CIMON is an autonomous flying robot with artificial intelligence.
CIMON stands for Crew Interactive MObile companioN, and it’s the first AI robot to go to space. It was launched towards the ISS with SpaceX’s Dragon capsule on June 29 and arrived at the station three days after it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Dubbed a “flying brain”, the slightly odd looking CIMON looks like a flying volleyball with a cartoon-like face and display (video above). It’s also roughly the same size as a volleyball, though it weighs five kilograms. CIMON can see and talk with people, and its built-in AI means it will keep getting smarter and learning on the go as it interacts with crew members. It is also equipped with facial recognition software that enables it to recognise who it’s talking to.
Currently, CIMON has been tailored to work with astronaut Alexander Gerst on three specific tasks, in which they will work with crystals, solve the Rubik’s cube, and perform a complex medical experiment with CIMON acting as an “intelligent” flying camera.
For now, CIMON’s main purpose is to demonstrate the benefits of human and machine collaboration in space, and to increase efficiency and reduce workload on the ISS. Perhaps in the future, such AI technology may be able to help astronauts with heavy-duty tasks like repairing spacecrafts or treating sick crew members.