There’s a new astronaut on its way to the International Space Station this morning aboard SpaceX’s most recent resupply launch, and it’s only the size of a medicine ball. CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) is an artificial intelligence assistant designed by Airbus and IBM to assist the European Space Agency’s astronauts in everyday tasks aboard the ISS. Weighing in at just 11 pounds and roughly the size of a medicine ball, this minute astronaut is equipped with the neural network strength of IBM’s Watson.
Crew members will be able to correspond with CIMON via voice commands and access a database of procedures. CIMON will also be able to detect the crew members’ moods and react accordingly, Till Eisenberg, CIMON project lead at Airbus, told SPACE.com.
In a February press release announcing CIMON’s arrival, Airbus said that CIMON’s emotional intelligence, in addition to its friendly face and voice, will help it operate like a true crew member aboard the station. To start, CIMON even has a built-in friend.
Before setting off today, CIMON has been trained alongside German astronaut Alexander Gerst to recognize Gerst’s voice and face and help him complete three different tasks while aboard the ISS. CIMON will help the geophysicist and volcanologist study crystals on the space station, solve a Rubik’s cube using video data and play the role of an “intelligent camera” to document a medical experiment on-board.
CIMON’s mission with Gerst will take place between this June and October 2018, but Airbus hopes that in the future CIMON will be able to observe crew members on longer missions and help scientists learn more about the social dynamics involved in extended space flight — an issue that will be paramount for any dreams of Martian colonies to come.