Today, a Falcon 9 launcher with a Dragon capsule took off towards the ISS from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida. Cimon is also on board the 15th ISS supply flight (SpaceX CRS-15). Cimon - an acronym for Crew Interactive MObile companioN - is an intelligent robot developed as part of the Horizons mission of ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and on behalf of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
"We are using a robot that supports the ISS crew like a colleague," says Magdalena Herová, PhD, research assistant at the BIOTESC support centre of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. Cimon flies independently through the ESA Columbus module of the ISS and positions itself so that it can make eye contact with the astronauts. "It can look up answers to questions, make small talk and, for example, float to a certain place at the command of an astronaut in order to measure the temperature there." For this, the robot also had to learn a special vocabulary, since in weightlessness terms such as "above" or "below" have no meaning. It can also show step-by-step instructions and videos. Cimon can execute a number of tasks at the command of BIOTESC, such as recording videos and transmitting them to Earth.
Content and processes developed at BIOTESC in Hergiswil
An international team consisting of specialists from BIOTESC, hardware and software developers from IBM and Airbus Space & Defense, and scientists from Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich has developed the five-kilo robot and made it capable of learning with the use of artificial intelligence. BIOTESC employees have defined what content Cimon needs to know and developed processes for integration, commissioning and operation. Under the direction of Gwendolyne Pascua, PhD, BIOTESC’s Cimon specialist, procedures and operating instructions for the astronauts were developed. These were then tested in an environment that simulates the conditions in the space station.
As soon as Cimon arrives on the ISS, BIOTESC staff from the control room in Hergiswil will guide the commissioning of the robot and monitor every movement and interaction with the astronauts. Using the collected data, Cimon's functionality is continuously enhanced.
Interdisciplinary team on behalf of DLR
"It was a special task for BIOTESC because many areas were integrated," says Dr Pascua. BIOTESC, ESA’s Biotechnology Support Center, is located in the Department of Technology & Architecture of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and works on behalf of the European Space Agency ESA. The interdisciplinary team supervises scientists who carry out experiments in the weightlessness of the Columbus space laboratory in Europe and supports astronauts in carrying out these experiments.
Besides Cimon, BIOTESC monitors biological experiments in the "Kubik" and "Biolab" incubators and supports programmes for pupils and students such as programming competitions for the small computer "AstroPi". As part of the ESA Education Programme, BIOTESC helps to produce videos of astronauts demonstrating and explaining physical and biological phenomena and thereby bringing life on the ISS closer to the general public.