CIMON: The World's First AI Robot in Space Returns to Earth After 14 Months on ISS
Mon, April 19, 2021

CIMON: The World's First AI Robot in Space Returns to Earth After 14 Months on ISS

Last year, NASA introduced CIMON or Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN, space's first-ever AI device. It arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) as part of its 57th mission in November 2018 / Photo by: NASA on The Commons via Flickr

 

In an artificial intelligence-driven world, more and more people are allowed to have interactions with robots, intelligent software, smart devices, prosthetics, and others. In recent years, AI and robotics have become a powerful combination for automating tasks in several industries, introducing flexibility and learning capabilities in previously rigid applications. Thus, it’s not surprising that people’s trust in AI robots is also increasing.

Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, reported that 65% of workers are optimistic, excited and grateful about having robot co-workers. About 64% of workers would trust a robot more than their manager and 82% think that these machines can do things better than their managers. This includes maintaining work schedules (34%), problem-solving (29%), providing unbiased information (26%), and managing a budget (26%). 

AI robots have also entered the world of the space industry. NASA needs to send robots to explore space without having to worry so much about their safety, which makes everything a lot easier. These machines can be used not only to simplify the operation of satellite communications but also help human analysts extract maximum value from imagery. At the same time, robots can do a lot of things in outer space that humans can’t. They can withstand harsh conditions, including high levels of radiation and extreme temperatures.

For example, the Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Rover, Puffer for short, is a two-wheeled adventurer that can flatten itself out and duck down to investigate tight spots. Last year, NASA introduced CIMON or Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN, space's first-ever AI device. It arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) as part of its 57th mission in November 2018. 

Introducing CIMON

Developed by European aerospace company Airbus, CIMON is relatively basic to look at: a 5kg 3D-printed ball with a video screen face and a camera. Space.com, a space and astronomy news website owned by Future, reported that CIMON can converse with people. It knows who it’s talking to due to its facial-recognition software. It can fly around by sucking air in and exhaling it through special tubes. 

While it can communicate with anyone, it is specifically designed to interact with European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst. Both of them are tasked to work on three separate investigations, including solving Rubik's cubes, experimenting with crystals, and performing a complex medical experiment. 

"Alexander Gerst could say something like, 'CIMON, could you please help me perform a certain experiment? Could you please help me with the procedure?' And then CIMON will fly towards Alexander Gerst, and they will already start the communication,” Philipp Schulien, a CIMON system engineer at Airbus, said. 

The AI robot is not only designed to interact with astronauts but also help them carry out everyday routine tasks. This includes facilitating mission success, increasing efficiency, and improving security since it can serve as an early warning system for technical problems. In a press release, Christian Karrasch, CIMON Project Manager at the German Aerospace Center, stated that CIMON has completely met their expectations.

Developed by European aerospace company Airbus, CIMON is relatively basic to look at: a 5kg 3D-printed ball with a video screen face and a camera / Photo by: hh oldman via Wikimedia Commons

 

“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,” Karrasch said. 

According to IBM, an American multinational information technology company, CIMON can also be trained on the tasks and experiments of a mission. The AI robot can respond to voice questions or directions without the need for a tablet or computer. This allows astronauts to conduct experiments without pausing to search or type. In the future, it could help increase crew productivity while reducing stress.

"CIMON is a technology demonstration of what a future AI-based assistant on the International Space Station or a future, longer-term exploration mission would look like. In the future, an astronaut could ask CIMON to show a procedure for a certain experiment, and CIMON would do that,” Marco Trovatello, a spokesman of the European Space Agency's Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, said. 

CIMON Has Returned

CIMON was sent to the International Space Station (ISS) for a mission last year, serving as a mobile autonomous assistance system. Ricky Arnold, a Station astronaut, expressed how excited he was to unload the AI robot and start great experiments on the outer space. After spending over a year in space, the robotic assistant returned to Earth last September. 

According to Digital Trends, a technology news, lifestyle, and information website, CIMON’s mission has been a success. “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,” Karrasch said. 

The team that developed the AI robot is already developing a more advanced version with better flight control and improvements to CIMON’s AI smarts. Till Eisenberg, Airbus project manager, stated that some of the upgrades would include improved flight and attitude control, a more robust computer, better microphones, and new software features like speech recognition, call history, and intent analysis for conversations.

Indeed, AI robots like CIMON are a great help in the space industry, making tasks easier for astronauts and ensuring that missions carried out in space are successful. 

CIMON was sent to the International Space Station (ISS) for a mission last year, serving as a mobile autonomous assistance system / Photo by: NASA and Crew of STS-132 via Wikimedia Commons