Artificial intelligence in space: CIMON says HAL is not all that

Those whose first introduction to artificial intelligence was the disembodied voice and menacing red cyclops eye of HAL in the Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, will find Airbus’ CIMON much more amusing.

This floating cylinder pal—a semi-sentient volley-ball with the face of a retro-Macintosh computer—is the next phase in the evolution of astronaut companions.

Manfred Jaumann, head of microgravity payloads from Airbus explains the genesis of CIMON saying:

“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.”

“Pioneering work was also done in the area of manufacturing with the entire structure of CIMON made up of plastic and metal created using 3D printing.”

The friendly AI sphere is born of a collaboration between Airbus, DLR Space Administration, IBM and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LMU). CIMON—which stands for Crew Interactive Mobile CompanioN—benefits from Watson AI technology through the IBM cloud.

Much like HAL, CIMON will help crew members work through checklists and procedures improving efficiency and security and will serve as an early warning system for any technical products onboard.

Its voice and simplified facial animations are intended to make CIMON a feel more like a colleague than a computer, and were designed using voice samples and photos of astronaut Dr. Alexander Gerst, who will be testing CIMON on the ISS during the European Space Agency’s Horizons mission, which will be carried out from June to October of this year.

Gerst had a say in the personalizing of the AI unit he will call his ISS buddy.

While on ISS, CIMON will help Gerst carry out three specific trials: an experiment with crystals, a complex medical experiment using CIMON as an ‘intelligent’ flying camera, and the two will also work to solve a Rubik’s cube (without unsticking the little colored stickers and putting them back in place).

Aerospace researchers plan to add capabilities to CIMON in the medium term to support projects like examining group effects developing in small teams working over a long period of time in space to project dynamics that may arise during long-term missions to the Moon or Mars. CIMON will measure the effectiveness of interactions between astronauts, between people and machines, and between teams and AI systems equipped with emotional intelligence.

Airbus believes that the CIMON project may benefit people here on Earth by laying the foundations for the development of AI care-givers who might work in hospitals or other social services facilities.

So far here on Earth, CIMON has been learning how to move around, getting a basic education from Watson AI, and learning to recognize human partners. Before his mission on the ISS, CIMON will get the feel for space with a parabolic flight planned for March that will test and optimize its GNC algorithms (Guidance, Navigation and Control) in zero G conditions.

It’s not clear from the announcement whether CIMON knows all the words to ‘Daisy Bell’. We kind of hope not, though it is a lovely tune.

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Marisa Garcia

About the Writer :: Marisa Garcia

Marisa Garcia is the tnooz aviation analyst. She has covered travel technology, design, branding, and strategy for leading publications, including Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, APEX Magazine, AirlineTrends, and Travel+Leisure. She also shares industry insights on her site Flight Chic. Fly with her on Twitter.



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  1. Chris Martin

    “Open the pod bay doors, CIMON.”

    “Okie dokie Dave, no problemo!”


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