Later this year, a different kind of astronaut is expected to be deployed aboard the International Space Station: a floating robot head.
Called CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion), the new crew member is about the size of a medicine ball and will work alongside human astronauts in space. The “floating brain” is equipped with IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence technology and is expected to assist astronauts during the European Space Agency’s Horizons mission in June.
CIMON is being developed by Airbus on behalf of the German Aerospace Center. It’s being programmed to perform three tasks: “experiment with crystals, solve the Rubik’s magic cube based on videos, and conduct a complex medical experiment by serving as an ‘intelligent’ flying camera,” according to IBM.
CIMON uses digital face and voice recognition along with artificial intelligence to make it more of a “colleague” to the astronauts than just another machine. The hope is that interacting with the robot as if it were a human will reduce astronauts’ stress levels and improve their efficiency while performing tasks.
While CIMON may be the smartest digital assistant aboard the ISS, it won’t be the first human-like robot to make an appearance in space. In 2011, NASA sent up a humanoid robot named Robonaut to perform simple tasks like cleaning handrails, Newsweek notes,.