Asked how he personally relates to CIMON, Biniok, 26, said he views the robot “a little bit like a son. Sometimes, he’s really (hard) working and sometimes he’s really mean and doesn’t do the things I want him to do!”
In that case, CIMON gets a lecture in the form of revised instructions.
As for what kind of jokes CIMON might tell, Biniok said most were provided by a student and “some of them are pretty harsh. But yeah, I think that should be a surprise for the astronauts.”
The idea for CIMON came from an Airbus engineer who happened across an old cartoon called “Captain Future.”
Biniok said the show featured a robot called Professor Simon, “actually a flying brain and it looks quite similar to CIMON here.”
But the actual brain power for the initial CIMON demonstration exists in the IBM cloud back on Earth.
CIMON will relay questions or comments from Gerst to the Watson AI via the station’s satellite internet link and then relay the answer to Gerst.
Biniok said the delay between question and answer is about two seconds.
Future versions of CIMON will include on-board AI to eliminate, or at least minimize, the need for direct contact with Earth, making such advanced units ideal for long-duration flights.
“That’s our vision,” Biniok said. “We want to support astronauts, especially on long-term flights to moon, Mars and beyond. … That will be one of the next steps, move the AI components from Earth to the International Space Station or to another spaceship, especially when we are going to the moon or Mars.”
Closer to home, he said the technology also is being used by more than 20 industries in more than 45 countries “because it’s all based on IBM Watson, based on the IBM cloud, and it’s available for all companies that want to use AI in their businesses. We’re already using it in health care, in automotive, in banking, all over the world.”
For its first space flight, CIMON will attempt a few relatively straight forward tasks, assisting German astronaut Alexander Gerst as he works through procedures for an experiment, helping him solve a Rubik’s Cube and a few others.
Equipped with microphones that can tell where Gerst is when he speaks, CIMON will turn to face the astronaut and fly over to his location to assist with a given task.
It will even bob up and down as if nodding its head in agreement or rotate side to side to indicate a negative response.
The idea is for the Watson AI, loaded with flight procedures, experiment and maintenance details, to eventually serve as a smart assistant for astronauts, learning on the job and providing quick answers to complex questions.
“Imagine you are an astronaut on the ISS and you have to conduct a sophisticated experiment,” Biniok said. “Right now, you have to float to a laptop and look up a pdf procedure, maybe you have to search this pdf document for a specific step, then you have to float back, maybe put on gloves again and continue working on your experiment.”
Such routine operations take time, he said. But with CIMON, “You can just ask those questions and let him guide you through the whole experiment.”
“I think that’s what CIMON is good for, he can increase the efficiency of the astronauts and therefore, decrease the time-consuming factors by just letting the voice speak,” Biniok said. “He can just ask CIMON, ‘what’s the next step? What should I do now? What kind of tool do I need to use right now?'”
The first space-based tests are expected in a few weeks.