Cimon the robot with amazing artificial intelligence to assist astronauts

Cimon the robot with amazing artificial intelligence to assist astronauts
Highlights

The large, circular, plastic robotic head is a part of SpaceX’s latest supply delivery to the International Space Station. On Friday’s pre-dawn liftoff included two sets of genetically identical female mice, 20 mouse astronauts that picked up where NASA’s identical twin brother astronauts left off a few years ago.

The large, circular, plastic robotic head is a part of SpaceX’s latest supply delivery to the International Space Station. On Friday’s pre-dawn liftoff included two sets of genetically identical female mice, 20 mouse astronauts that picked up where NASA’s identical twin brother astronauts left off a few years ago. Super-caffeinated coffee is also flying up for the space station’s java-craving crew.

As intriguing as the identical space siblings and turbocharged space coffee maybe, it’s the German robot which is named Cimon, pronounced Simon, after a genius doctor in science fiction’s “Captain Future” — that’s stealing the show.

Don’t worry about AI running amok on the space station. Cimon’s human handlers promise the first AI space bot will behave. No mutinous takeovers like HAL from the 1968 classic film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“He’s a friendly guy and he has this hard power-off button,” German Space Agency physicist Christian Karrasch, the project manager, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Like HAL, the autonomous Cimon is an acronym: it stands for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion. Its AI brain is the courtesy of IBM.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who arrived at the orbiting lab a month ago, will be introducing Cimon to the space life during three one-hour sessions. Already comprehending about Gerst’s science experiments, the self-propelling Cimon will float at the astronaut’s side and help, when asked, with research procedures.

Cimon has Gerst’s face and voice imprinted in its memory. So while the robot could assist the five other station astronauts, it is best suited for Gerst, according to Karrasch. To get Cimon’s attention, Gerst will need only to call its name. Their common language will be English, the official language of the space station.

As it is, Cimon smiles when it senses the conversation is upbeat and frowns when it’s sad. A small screen on the sphere serves to be its face.

Researchers chose a ball rather than a humanoid face for Cimon because they thought it would be less potentially disturbing or creepy. Because it’s perfectly round — a little bigger than a basketball — it’s also safer, with no sharp edges that could cause no damage to the space station equipment or poke astronauts.

The entire project, took barely two years in the making, and costed in under 5 million Euros, or $5.8 million.

Cimon is meant for additional brainpower, so it doesn’t have legs or arms. NASA’s humanoid Robonaut, on the other hand, lacked AI but was envisioned as a Spiderman. It's hands and feet designed for grabbing and climbing.

Robonaut is back on Earth. It returned aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule in May after long bouts of inactivity and technical issues. Once fixed, an improved Robonaut may fly back to the space station.


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