NASA IS SENDING a rather unusual type of crew member aboard its next SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS): a robot called CIMON.
Standing for "Crew Interactive Mobile Companion", CIMON is a spherical bot that can see, hear, understand, speak and even fly. Measuring 32cm across and tipping the scales at 5kg, it's essentially astronauts' flight attendant and assistance system.
It was built by Airbus on behalf of the German Aerospace Center in a bid to "demonstrate cooperation between humans and intelligent machines" in the form of a technology experiment.
Based on IBM's Watson AI tech to provide voice-controlled artificial intelligence, the human aspects of the assistance system were co-developed and supervised by scientists at Ludwig-Maximilian University Hospital in Munich.
"We have implemented this experiment in a very short time. It is intended to show to what extent the astronauts' work can be supported in the European Columbus module on the ISS and relieve them, in particular, of routine tasks," said Christian Karrasch, CIMON Project Manager at the DLR Space Administration.
"Ideally, the astronauts could use their time better and more effectively. With CIMON, we are entering new territory and operating at the threshold of technological feasibility."
Once about the ISS, CIMON will essentially assist astronauts in a bunch of experiments, and will also be used as a "flying camera".
"CIMON allows the astronaut to keep both hands free, with no need to manually operate a computer, for example," said the German Aerospace Centre. "Thanks to this fully voice-controlled access to documents and media, the astronaut can conveniently navigate through operating and repair instructions and procedures for experiments and equipment."
The robot will thus serve as a complex database of all the necessary information for working on the ISS, and can also be used as a mobile camera for documentation purposes.
NASA's resupply mission is the 15th of its kind and will see a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft packed with more than 5,900 pounds of research, crew supplies, and hardware. It will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40, today, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
"About 10 minutes after launch, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit. It then will deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station," NASA said.
"It will reach the space station Monday, 2 July with NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold, backed up by fellow NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, [who] will supervise the operation of the Canadarm2 robotic arm for Dragon's capture while NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor monitors the spacecraft's systems."
After Dragon capture, NASA said ground commands will be sent from mission control in Houston for the station's arm to rotate and install it on the bottom of the station. µ
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