The futuristic computer companion has long been a mainstay of science-fiction, but it’s about to be science fact thanks to a new floating head computer that will soon board the International Space Station.
Dubbed the Crew Interactive MObile Companion, or CIMON for short, the computer is a round, 3D-printed piece of artificial intelligence that’s going to help ISS astronauts solve various problems and execute procedures. Built by Airbus and IBM, the device — which has a screen capable of displaying a somewhat creepy animated face — will be powered by IBM’s formidable Watson AI; previously best known for spanking humans on Jeopardy. CIMON, however, will take Watson’s power to outer space, where he’ll float around the ISS waiting to aid his human associates by displaying procedures and warning them about impending technical issues.
“In short, CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system,” Airbus Head of Microgravity Payloads, Manfred Jaumann, said in a press release. “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.” The “flying brain” has been training with astronaut Alexander Gerst, and is set to perform more tests with him (including solving a Rubik’s cube) before potentially going on its first official mission later this month on the 31st DLR parabolic flight campaign.
In order to become more familiar with Gerst prior to the training, CIMON was fed images of the astronaut, as well as audio recordings of his voice. CIMON was also uploaded with procedures and plans of the Columbus module of the International Space Station, so the robot will know its way around once on board. This all sounds pretty cool, but let’s just make sure CIMON doesn’t get a hold of a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey, shall we?