The International Space Station (ISS) has introduced a flying robot assistant, equipped with AI to help make astronauts’ lives easier by completing everyday tasks.

The Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON) robot can show astronauts repair instructions, reading them out and displaying them on its screen so they can focus on using their hands to fix the problem rather than turning pages in a manual. It’ll also be able to show how staff can carry out tasks according to specific instructions. Everything can be stored on a database onboard the robot, making it a true multifunctional device.

It was jointly built by IBM and Airbus as a partnership with the German Aerospace Center. The AI tech was built onWatson AI technology from the IBM Cloud and the human elements of the robot were developed by scientists at Ludwig-Maximilian University Hospital in Munich.

“The aim of the CIMON project is to examine the current capabilities of artificial intelligence in a complex environment such as the International Space Station, in order to provide the best possible support to people in such conditions,” says Matthias Biniok, IBM’s lead Watson architect in Germany said.

“These skills can be individually trained and enhanced within the context of their respective application. Artificial intelligence also makes particular use of artificial neural networks.”

CIMON has a diameter of 32cm and weighs 5kg. It uses voice activated technology so astronauts can find what they’re looking for just by barking commands at the robot. However, when it heads off for its first mission, it won’t have full functionality, but will be used to perform experiments.

“We have implemented this experiment in a very short time,” summarises Christian Karrasch, CIMON Project Manager at the DLR Space Administration in Bonn. “It is intended to show to what extent the astronauts’ work can be supported in the European Columbus module on the ISS and relieve them, in particular, of routine tasks. Ideally, the astronauts could use their time better and more effectively. With CIMON, we are entering new territory and operating at the threshold of technological feasibility.”