A floating, ball-shaped robot, specially trained to follow a German astronaut around the International Space Station, blasted off yesterday on its ground-breaking mission.
The basketball-sized device called CIMON — shortened from “Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN” — was described as a “flying brain” by Manfred Jaumann, head of microgravity payloads at Airbus.
It launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, yesterday at 5:42am, along with about 2,700kg of gear packed aboard SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon cargo capsule.
Photo: AP/the German Aerospace Center
CIMON’s activation marks “a historical moment,” becoming the first robot of its kind to interact with people in space, said Christian Karrasch, CIMON project manager at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), during a NASA news briefing on Thursday.
A project in the works for the past two years, CIMON has been trained to recognize the voice and face of Alexander Gerst, 42, a geophysicist with the European Space Agency.
When Gerst calls CIMON, the floating robot acoustically senses where Gerst is calling from, orients itself and zooms over.
Hovering at the astronauts’ eye level, its front camera can detect if the person in front of it is indeed Gerst, or someone else.
CIMON is powered by more than a dozen propellers to help it jet around and avoid bumping into things inside the Columbus module of the space lab.
“This is designed to work in English. It understands Alexander,” said Bret Greenstein, global vice president of Watson Internet of Things Offerings at IBM. “It was helpful to train it to recognize him so that it will come to him when he speaks.”
All six crew members at the orbiting outpost can speak to CIMON, although it has been taught to work best with Gerst.
Experts say the experiment is more than just a smartphone-type device that follows astronauts around.
The metal and plastic intelligent robot, built using 3D printing, works together with people as a team, and allows astronauts to communicate hands-free via voice commands.
CIMON is to work with the space station’s Watson AI — IBM’s artificial intelligence technology — designed to support space flight crews.
Partners in the project include Airbus, DLR, IBM and the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich.
The goal for this flight is mainly to demonstrate that the technology works.
Three experiments are planned: one using crystals, one with a Rubik’s cube and, finally, a medical experiment in which CIMON is to be employed as a flying camera, DLR said.
The robot is designed to guide Gerst through various science procedures and show videos or pictures as needed.
Gerst can also ask the robot questions beyond the simple procedure at hand.
CIMON is equipped with a microphone on the back, an infrared camera on the front, two batteries, and, perhaps most importantly, an offline button.
Once toggled to offline, Gerst can be sure nothing he is saying is streamed down to the IBM server on Earth.
Once back on, voice recordings are activated again.
CIMON is not yet trained to respond to all possible emergencies and protocols on the space station, researchers said, adding that the AI robot is programmed to learn, and they hope to further hone its capabilities in the years to come.
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
PLAYING THE VICTIM? A Chinese spokesman sent a statement to Australian media saying that Beijing had ‘irrefutable’ evidence of Canberra’s widescale espionage Australia yesterday unveiled the “largest-ever” boost in cybersecurity spending, days after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke out about a wave of state-sponsored attacks suspected to have been carried out by China. Morrison and government officials said the country would spend an additional A$1.35 billion (US$928 million) on cybersecurity, about a 10 percent hike, taking the budget for the next decade to A$15 billion. The largest chunk of the new money would help create 500 jobs within the Australian Signals Directorate, the government’s communications intelligence agency. Morrison on June 19 said that a “state-based actor” was targeting a host of