Robotic 'Flying Brain' Cimon Joining International Space Station Crew to Monitor Astronauts' Mental States
We've seen all kinds of strange little robot helpers, from Robelf to Temi, but Cimon is probably the weirdest: it's a floating face in a ball, designed to help astronauts carry out tasks on deep space missions...and keep an eye on them.
Its first mission will be on the International Space Station, where it will help to record experiment results and test out its basic functions, like voice and facial recognition.
CIMON stands for "Crew Interactive Mobile Companion," and comes with a built-in camera and onboard AI, which will help it interpret commands. (It also bears an uncanny resemblance to an Aperture Science Core from the video game Portal.)
According to a representative from Airbus, who cooperated with IBM to design the robot, "CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system. 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."
Calling it a 'flying brain' is pretty strange, as is the idea of AI-assisted space missions—especially when that AI is monitoring your psychological health.
According to Till Eisenberg, the project leader for CIMON, one of its tasks will be to monitor the crew:
"CIMON is a personal assistant capable of voice and facial recognition. We want to study the psychological effects of long space missions on crew members and try out suitable countermeasures, especially those that reduce stress. We will place special emphasis on data mining and interactions between humans and AI."
Despite all the advances in robotics tech, we've yet to see a robot that's genuinely comforting or friendly—even Pepper, the "emotional robot," is still a bit uncanny when it comes to human interactions.
We're fine with CIMON being a floating, voice-controlled assistant, but once its prerogative starts straying into monitoring the mental states of astronauts, we get a little nervous.
We know what happens when an AI aboard a long-term, deep-space mission determines that its astronauts are going "crazy" and jeopardizing the mission—it refuses to open the pod bay doors.