Watch an ISS Astronaut Tests His New Robotic Assistant for the First Time

The International Space Station received its very own robotic assistant, named Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON), in June. And on November 30, the German astronaut Alexander Gerst tested the spherical A.I. by asking it to play music, help him with an experiment, and to fly around the space station.

The trial run landed somewhere in between silly and creepy. CIMON played the song The Man Machine by Kraftwerk, and seemed to slip up when it told Gerst that he was being mean for no good reason. Then, in an eerier twist, CIMON correctly sensed when the astronaut was getting hungry. This made CIMON seem like the spawn of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odessey and Amazon’s Alexa.

“Oh dear, I feel you. I can already hear your stomach roaring,” stated the bot. “Should we take a look for when it is time for food?”

The 11-pound robot was brought into existence by fusing Airbus’ hardware with the software behind IBM’s Watson supercomputer. CIMON’s primary objective is to assist Gerst with his daily activities aboard the ISS. It was trained using massive data sets and technical manuals it will use to assist the astronaut with scientific experiments and regular maintenance.

CIMON knows all, sees all.


CIMON also comes equipped with 14 internal fans that can pull and push air so it can maneuver itself around the ISS’s weightless environment. The bot uses infrared and supersonic navigation systems to create a 3D map of the space station to make sure it doesn’t bump into crucial hardware.

Gerst’s first test of CIMON showed off some of its use cases, but also revealed some bugs. The floating helper was able to summon the steps and equipment required for an experiment, which eliminates the need for astronauts to carry around manuals. But CIMON also responded nonsensically to a few of Gerst’s commands, a problem that could be worked out with updates in the future.

The robot is securely connected to IBM’s Cloud, meaning its software is consistently being updated and it’s constantly learning how to adapt to its environment. In light of the unjustified accusations of meanness, let’s hope some of those updates help the two get along.

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