AI robot crew member CIMON to join astronauts on space station

Up for a visit

It's hauling almost 6,000 pounds of cargo, including the first robot with artificial intelligence bound for space.

The used Falcon rocket blasted off hauling almost 2,700kg of cargo, including the spherical AI bot named Cimon; genetically identical mice, or mousetronauts; and super-caffeinated coffee for the crew of the International Space Station.

They did the same with Scott and Mark Kelly, Nasa's former identical twin astronauts, during Scott's year-long space station mission a few years ago.

The thin line between science fiction and reality is soon going to vanish with robots completely powered with AI, ready to explore the outer space.

"I was going to say breathtaking, but maybe awakening might be a better word", said NASA's space station program manager, Kirk Shireman. Cimon's human handlers promise the first AI space bot will behave.

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CIMON is the droid predecessor to R2-D2 from "Star Wars" or HAL 9000 out of "2001: Space Odyssey".

The robot, called Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON), has been developed by Airbus in partnership with IBM.

IBM provided the AI brain.

The German Aerospace Center plans for CIMON to undergo three one-hour sessions to demonstrate how well the robot can help with experiments, like a crystal growth study, a test for its eight on-board cameras and an exercise to help Mr. Gerst solve a Rubiks cube. Using its 14 internal fans, CIMON can accelerate toward any astronaut calling its name and can appear to "nod" to show understanding of a command. The language of communication with the robot will be English.

To be honest, we find it more exciting than scary and we're sure the astronauts on board the space station will find his company interesting and useful. CIMON smiles when the mood is upbeat, and frowns or cries when things are sad. A small screen on the sphere serves as its face.

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Researchers chose a ball rather than a humanoid face for Cimon because they thought it would be less potentially disturbing or creepy.

The round robot features no sharp edges, so it poses no threat to equipment or crew. CIMON cost less than £5 million to build, and less than two years to develop.

The real AI payoff will be when astronauts travel to the moon, Mars or other distant destinations. From there, it is scheduled to rendezvous with the ISS on July 2.

Robonaut is back on Earth.

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