News & Opinion | June 29, 2018 11:08 am

This Floating Robot With a Face and Brain Is Going to Space

The robot's full name is Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, or Cimon.

This Jan. 30, 2018 photo provided by the German Aerospace Center shows the "Cimon" (Crew Interactive MObile companioN) robot during a communications test at the ESA European Astronaut Center in Cologne-Porz, Germany. (T. Bourry/ESA/DLR via AP)

The International Space Station is about to receive nearly three tons of research and resupply materials. But they’re also about to get something a little different: a floating robot designed as a helpmeet for astronauts. The bot’s full name is Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, but will go by Cimon for short. It kind of looks like a speaker, but the middle of it has a screen that displays a line-sketch face that talks back. On this demonstrative mission, Cimon will be at ISS to help the Station’s commander with three very simple tasks. This will test the robot’s utility. In the future, Cimon might also watch and interpret how crew members interact with each other and track the social dynamics that people on the ground might not understand.

According to Wired, Cimon is a joint project between the European aerospace company Airbus and IBM. It is funded by the German space agency DLR. Its eyes are cameras, its ears are microphones and it has a speaker for a mouth. It is free to move about the microgravity cabin because it uses fans as fins and ultrasonic sensors for proprioception. Cimon is supposed to be able to learn by recording, downlinking and analyzing information.