While many Earth-based A.I. systems are meant to eventually replace the tasks of humans, NASA’s International Space Station is currently exploring the benefits of A.I. so their astronauts will simply have someone to talk to. After all, space can get pretty lonely sometimes, and seeing as the only thing between you and the black abyss is a few feet of metal, not everyone is willing to take the journey to the great unknown.
Could this be the beginning stages of a HAL 9000?
Enter CIMON, a mobile plastic A.I. sphere designed to float around a space station and help its fellow astronauts with tasks both technical and emotional. Costing $6,000,000, this robot was built by the DLR German Aerospace Center using IBM’s WatsonQ&A computer system. Using 12 built in fans, CIMON can propel itself around the station while displaying images on its screen, recording video using a camera, and blasting tunes out of its speakers.
In the video above, you can see CIMON interact with European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alexander Gerst. He asks CIMON simple questions about space as well as gives him directions to move around the space station. When beginning a space procedure (which is a lot cooler than any Earth-bound procedure because it’s in space), CIMON pulls up a to-do list for Gerst to look at.
He isn’t just bound to space-related activities either. When prompted, CIMON also serves as a music player, a video recorder, and a simple-minded conversationalist. There are still a number of bugs to work out, such as CIMON’s difficulty in switching from music mode to video mode and his not being a very good talker, but at the very least he works! With a little more tweaking, he could serve as a valuable asset and teammate for other space dwellers who need a little companionship.
So yeah; this is pretty much a HAL 9000, just nicer.