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ISS welcomes aboard smart assistant for astronauts

Image credit: airbus

A smart assistant designed to help astronauts carry out tasks and monitor their mood while they’re working has been sent up to the International Space Station (ISS).

The spherically shaped CIMON-2 (Crew Interactive MObile companioN) was built in Germany by Airbus and can freely fly around the ISS.

It is able to show and explain information and instructions for scientific experiments and repairs and provide voice-controlled access to documents and media so astronauts can keep their hands free.

It can also be used as a mobile camera to save astronaut crew time and could be used to perform routine tasks, such as documenting experiments, searching for objects and taking inventory.

CIMON can also see, hear, understand and speak and orientates itself using its ‘eyes’ – a stereo camera and a high-resolution camera that it uses for facial recognition – as well as two other cameras fitted to its sides which it uses for photos and video documentation.

CIMON also comes equipped with ultrasound sensors that can measure distances in order to recognise potential collisions. Its ‘ears’ consist of eight microphones to identify directions and an additional directional microphone to improve voice recognition.

Twelve internal rotors allow CIMON to move and rotate freely in all directions and it can even nod or shake its head in response to astronaut commands.

The droid was among 2,585kg of supplies and experiments aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, whose midday launch had been delayed from Wednesday due to high winds.

“The overall goal is to really create a true companion. The relationship between an astronaut and CIMON is really important,” Matthias Biniok, the lead architect for CIMON-2, told Reuters. “It’s trying to understand if the astronaut is sad, is he angry, joyful and so on.”

Based on algorithms built by IBM and data from CIMON-1, a nearly identical prototype that launched in 2018, CIMON-2 will be more sociable with crew members.

“Group-thinking is really dangerous,” Biniok said. In times of conflict or disagreement among astronauts, one of CIMON’s most important purposes would be to serve as “an objective outsider that you can talk to if you’re alone or could actually help let the group collaborate again,” he said.

Earlier this week, ISS astronauts installed upgrades to the station’s dark matter detector during a six-hour spacewalk.

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