Hello Cimon! Floating AI head is the latest crew member destined for the International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is getting a new crew member: a disembodied head powered by artificial intelligence.

Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (Cimon) is shaped like a medicine ball and weighs around 5kg. Designed by Airbus, it has been created to help astronauts with experiments and routine work, as well as chat to crew members about checklists and mission procedures.

According to Airbus, Cimon will be a “genuine colleague” on the ISS and all of this is made possible thanks to an AI brain based on IBM’s Watson technology. Cimon will be able to learn from the astronauts working on board the ISS, and adapt to the different tasks it can help with.cimon_iss_2

“Cimon is a personal assistant capable of voice and facial recognition,” said project leader Till Eisenberg. “We want to study the psychological effects of long space missions on crew members and try out suitable countermeasures, especially those that reduce stress.

“We will place special emphasis on data mining and interactions between humans and AI.”

Cimon will make its way to the ISS later this year, alongside German geophysicist Alexander Gerst. As Gerst’s companion, the floating AI head will help experiment with crystals, solve Rubix cube puzzles and, according to Airbus, perform a “complex medical experiment” with Cimon acting as a flying camera.

In the longer term, aerospace researchers want to examine how Cimon can work within group dynamics for long-haul missions to the moon or Mars. At first glance, Cimon’s smiling face does resemble Gerty, from Duncan Jones’ 2009 film Moon. At least it isn’t an ominous red orb.

Apparently, Gerst had a say in the face and voice used for his electronic colleague, so we’ve got him to blame for Cimon’s somewhat unnerving smile.

Cimon will be tested in zero-G conditions as soon as March 2018. If all goes according to plan, the floating AI head will make its way to the ISS as part of the European Space Agency’s Horizons mission between June and October 2018.

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