The flying astronaut assistant

Technology demonstration – astronaut assistance system

CIMON is an innovative and globally unique astronaut assistance system. This autonomous flying system is equipped with Artifcial Intelligence (AI) from IBM and will be used for the frst time by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst during the ‘horizons’ mission. The DLR Space Administration awarded Airbus the contract to undertake the CIMON project using funds from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), and it was specially developed for use in the European Columbus module on the ISS. CIMON aims to demonstrate that human-machine interaction can support the work of astronauts and increase their effciency. The flying companion can present and explain a wide range of information and instructions for scientifc experiments and repairs. One big advantage of CIMON is that the astronaut can work freely with both hands while having voice-controlled access to documents and media. A further application of CIMON is its use as a mobile camera for operational and scientifc purposes. The flying companion can carry out routine tasks, such as documenting experiments, searching for objects and performing inventories.

CIMON can also see, hear, speak and understand. Cameras and facial recognition software for orientation and video documentation serve as its ‘eyes’. Ultrasound sensors measure distances to avoid collisions. Its ‘ears’ are comprised of several microphones for spatial detection and a directional microphone for good voice recognition. CIMON’s ‘mouth’ is a loudspeaker, through which it can speak and play music. The heart of the AI for understanding speech is the IBM Watson system. The AI for autonomous navigation comes from Airbus and is used for movement planning and object recognition. CIMON is largely produced using a 3D printing process and, with a diameter of 32 centimetres, is slightly larger than a football. CIMON can freely move and rotate in any direction using air jets. Using these jets, it can turn to an astronaut if it is addressed, nod and shake its head, and independently follow the user on command. Terrestrial applications for the CIMON technologies are expected in Industry 4.0 (in robotic industrial production, for example), medicine and care, as well as education.

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Christian Karrasch · E-Mail: ·