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Background Information on CIMON Mobile Astronaut Assistant

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 31, 2019
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the CIMON mobile astronaut assistant is tested at the European Astronaut Centre’s Columbus training module. (Credit: DLR)

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — Developed and built in Germany, CIMON is a technology experiment to support astronauts and increase the efficiency of their work. CIMON is able to show and explain information, instructions for scientific experiments and repairs. Voice-controlled access to documents and media is an advantage, as the astronauts can keep both hands free.

CIMON can also be used as a mobile camera to save astronaut crew time. It could perform routine tasks, such as documenting experiments, searching for objects and taking inventory. CIMON is also able to see, hear, understand and speak.

Its ‘eyes’ are a stereo camera used for orientation, as well as a high-resolution camera for facial recognition and two additional, lateral cameras for imaging and video documentation. Ultrasonic sensors measure distances to detect potential collisions.

CIMON’s ‘ears’ consist of eight microphones used to detect the direction of sound sources and an additional directional microphone for good voice recognition. Its mouth is a loudspeaker that can be used to speak or to play music.

At the heart of the AI for language understanding is IBM’s Watson AI technology from the IBM Cloud. CIMON is not equipped with self-training capabilities and requires active human instruction. The AI used for autonomous navigation was contributed by Airbus and is designed for movement planning and object recognition.

Twelve internal rotors allow CIMON to move and revolve freely in all directions. This means it can turn toward the astronaut when addressed. It can also nod or shake its head and follow the astronaut either autonomously or on command.

CIMON Partners

The development and construction of the interactive astronaut assistant was commissioned by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Space Administration, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and implemented by Airbus in Friedrichshafen and Bremen. The Watson AI technology from the IBM Cloud is used for voice-controlled artificial intelligence.

The human aspects of the assistance system were co-developed and supervised by scientists from the Ludwig-Maximilians University Hospital in Munich (LMU). A project team of approximately 50 people from DLR, Airbus, IBM and LMU have been working on the implementation of CIMON since August 2016.

CIMON has been on board the ISS since 2 July 2018. It is no coincidence that its name is reminiscent of Simon Wright, the robot assistant – the ‘flying brain’ – from the science-fiction comic and series ‘Captain Future’.

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