SpaceX will launch its 15th cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA later today, which will carry a German-designed robotic helper called the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON).
CIMON was developed and built by Airbus in Germany on behalf of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
It is is roughly spherical and has a diameter of 32cm. It weighs 5kg, and somewhat resembles the Wilson companion volleyball from the movie Cast Away.
However, CIMON is much smarter than the mute Wilson.
The DLR said CIMON can present and explain information and instructions for scientific experiments and repairs.
Its uses two cameras to see, and has an additional camera for facial recognition. Two side cameras are used for video documentation, and could also be used for additional computer-generated functions – such as augmented reality.
Ultrasonic sensors measure distances for collision detection and seven microphones act as “ears” for detecting where sounds are originating. There is also a directional microphone for voice recognition.
CIMON’s core speech comprehension element is the IBM Watson artificial intelligence platform and it uses a loudspeaker to provide feedback to astronauts – and may be used to play music.
A human must train CIMON, however, as it can’t learn independently.