A.I. Learned How to Be an Astronaut and Help Out Fellow ISS Crew Members

HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey is pretty much here. Meet CIMON, the world’s first astronaut-assisting A.I. that was sent aboard the International Space Station in June. Short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, the spherical bot kind of like Amazon’s Alexa would if she had undergone astronaut training. It’s there to help German astronaut Alexander Gerst maintain the lab and conduct experiments.

In early December, Gerst activated the 11-pound robot for the first time. It played the song The Man Machine by Kraftwerk, somehow knew that Gerst was hungry, and called the astronaut mean for no reason. But the real test of its ability will be when it begins helping him monitor the hundreds of science experiments being conducted aboard the ISS.

This is #8 on Inverse’s list of the 20 Ways A.I. Became More Human in 2018.

CIMON run on IBM’s Watson supercomputer. Through a secure connection, the robot has constant, up-to-date knowledge about the ISS’s maintenance and schedule of scientific procedures. It uses its screen to bring up blueprints, lists, and express emotions so Gerst knowns what it wants to say at a glance.

CIMON getting to know his boss.


“We’re providing [the astronauts with] something that can really understand what they’re doing,” IBM’s Global VP, Bret Greenstein, told Inverse. “It can deeply understand the kinds of questions they ask, the experiments they’re doing, the scientific terminology they use. It’s like a new generation of conversational interface than what anyone’s ever seen here on Earth before.”

To complement its brains, CIMON is equipped with 14 internal fans that pull and push air so it can fly around ISS without knocking into anything important. It uses infrared and supersonic navigation systems to create 3D maps of its environment to identify where it can and can’t hover.

For now, CIMON is a space cadet at best. But with a bit more experience it could graduate into a full-fledged robotic astronaut.

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