Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will soon have a new crew member to interact with, a ball-sized robot dubbed 'Cimon'.
Backed by artificial intelligence, Cimon aka "Crew Interactive Mobile Companion" is designed to float around ISS and assist astronauts on their missions by displaying step-by-step procedures or solutions to their problems.
The talking robot, with a smiling face and an expansive vocabulary, will be a genuine "colleague" of the astronauts. It would simplify their routine tasks, entertain them from time to time, and serve as an early warning system to flag technical glitches.
"In short, CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system," said Manfred Jaumann, Head of Microgravity Payloads from Airbus, the company behind the revolutionary space robot.
"We are the first company in Europe to carry a free flyer, a kind of flying brain, to the ISS and to develop artificial intelligence for the crew on board the space station." The whole thing weighs around 5kg and is completely built from 3D printed plastic and metal parts, according to the company.
At present, Cimon is learning to orient itself, move, and recognise mission partners. The robot has been trained to work in tandem with German astronaut Alexander Gerst and will get the first taste of zero gravity in a simulated parabolic flight next month.
Once the testing phase is complete, it will take to the skies work on the space station during European Space Agency's (ESA) Horizons mission between June and October 2018.
The so-called 'flying brain' will engage in a range of tasks with Gerst such as experimenting with crystals, solving a Rubik's cube and performing complex medical studies by working as a flying camera. Airbus is also planning to study the machine's long-term interaction with astronauts to estimate how deep space missions to Mars and beyond would pan out would pan out with an intelligent robot onboard.