Later today – at 5.42am EST to be exact – a spherical robot designed and developed by IBM, Airbus and DLR will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard a SpaceX rocket on a journey to the International Space Station.
The robot, called “Cimon”, is said to contain “next-level intelligence” and will take part in many scientific experiments on the ISS mission.
Cimon – which is pronounced “Simon” and stands for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion – is about the size of a basketball and will accompany German astronaut Alexander Gerst.
The team at IBM which designed Cimon’s brains – two of whom are women – gave the robot what is termed an “ISTJ personality”, meaning it is introverted, sensing, thinking, and judging.
Cimon is also said to have some of the personality traits of famous film robots and aliens, such as R2D2 and ET.
Cimon integrates IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence features, such as speech and visual recognition, and is expected to be “very helpful for tasks with many steps”.
“Space is a demanding work environment where accuracy and speed are critical,” says IBM.
“After successful commissioning, Cimon will use IBM Watson technologies to assist Commander Gerst in carrying out scientific work and including experiments and will conduct video documentation as a flying webcam.
“In the future, Cimon could serve as an early warning system in case of technical problems.”
IBM designed Cimon to become a “colleague” to the human crew members of the ISS, giving it a digital face, voice and AI to communicate.
“Social interaction between people and machines may play an important role in future, longer space missions,” says IBM. “Cimon is a technology demonstration of the feasibility of that role.”
While IBM designed Cimon’s brain, most of the robot’s hardware was developed by Airbus on behalf of DLR, the German Aerospace Centre.
Much of the testing of Cimon here on Earth was undertaken by Airbus and DLR.