The next shipment headed to the International Space Station packs nearly three tons of research and resupply materials. You know, the typical stuff: sediment analyzes, a plant thermometer, a replacement hand for the giant robotic Canadarm. Oh, and also a float robot designed as a helpmeet for astronauts–scientifically, logistically, and emotionally.
The bot’s full name is Crew Interactive Mobile Companion: Cimon. It looks like one of those spherical pond speakers, if you replaced the speaker with a screen that displays a line-sketch face that talks back. This is no full-utility HAL: On this demonstration mission, Cimon is there to help the Station’s commander with three very simple tasks that test its utility. But longer-term, Cimon could also watch and construe how crew members interact with each other, tracking the social dynamics that were likely to escape the cosmonauts’ handlers on the ground.
Cimon is a joint project between the European aero company Airbus and IBM, funded by the German space bureau DLR. And its developers hope cosmonauts will kind of enjoy working with the bot, that having a task-buddy will de-stress them. But it’s complicated–because work buddies aren’t( usually, hopefully) recording you.
Cimon doesn’t have a body, but it has cameras for eyes, microphones for ears, and a speaker for a mouth. Utilizing fans as fins, and ultrasonic sensors for proprioception, it is free to move about the microgravity cabin. It can respond in human speech to human the issues and statements, and learn from( recording, downlinking, and analyzing) interactions. Plus, engineers equipped it with a personality( ISTJ, they claim ). With all that, Cimon’s parents hope it’ll make a good( snooping) socializer.