CIMON SAYS… flies, feels, sees, hears, sings in space

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You may remember that I wrote about the CIMON, Watson AI-powered assistant that could help the astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS), to perform experiments and to socialize a little, too.

Now that was CIMON-1.  CIMON-1 has retired and like any other astronaut, CIMON-1 will now spend his retirement, performing at events and in exhibitions, encouraging young people to study STEM and showing off his capabilities.

CIMON-2 was launched to ISS in December 2019, but what is CIMON really?

CIMON is a 3D-printed ball-shaped device with an AI inside, powered by IBM Watson.  The task for CIMON is to support astronauts during long travels and stays in space.  Not only with factual knowledge and instructions but also as a socializing, understanding, nice companion and entertainer.

CIMON-2 has successfully recently been tested by the Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano and demonstrated many of his capabilities:

  • Indoor precision navigation using his new eyes – a stereo camera
  • Autonomous flying, nodding, shaking his head with 12 internal rotors,
  • Ultrasonic sensors to prevent collision
  • Facial recognition
  • Voice recognition and NLP for dialogues and understanding spoken commands
  • 8 microphones for detecting the location of sound sources
  • A ‘mouth’ in the form of loudspeaker for talking and playing music
  • Access to a large knowledge base of the space, the experiment protocols, the mission, and the space station

CIMON is powered by Watson technologies including Watson Visual RecognitionWatson Speech to TextWatson Text to SpeechWatson Assistant and Watson Tone Analyzer.

The tone analyzer enables Watson to understand the astronauts’ feelings and have an empathic dialogue.  Is she/he stressed, in a bad mood, angry?  Should CIMON say some calming words or perhaps music from someone’s favorite playlist?

DID YOU READ: THINK 2020 becomes a Digital Event Experience

The future of CIMON in space – Next stop: Mars?

CIMON will set a new record for an earthly intelligence staying in space. The plan is that he shall work in the ISS for 3 years (the longest human mission is 438 days).  It is evident that one of the future potential uses of CIMON may be to accompany long space expeditions – like Mars.

But I can also easily imagine that many of the capabilities developed for ISS could be deployed on Earth for a variety of use-cases ‘at the edge’:

  • Autonomous welfare bots in hospitals, elderly care homes, etc.?
  • Assistance to maintenance and repairs workers in dangerous, remote or perhaps subsea locations?
  • Driver assistant in semi- or fully autonomous vehicles
  • Assistant to knowledge workers
  • Compliance advisor on the manufacturing floor in regulated industries
  • Coach- / trainer / instructor in sports, education etc.

The form factor would, of course, have to be adapted and modified, and many times you may find ‘CIMON’ embedded into other types of devices or perhaps just as the intelligence in applications.

The possibilities are endless –  our fantasy is the only limit.  if you had a CIMON – what would you use him for?

Fact: CIMON stands for “Crew Interactive MObile companioN). CIMON is developed and tested by  DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt / German Aerospace Center ), Airbus, IBM and the scientific partners LMU (Ludwig-Maximilians-University-Munich).

Fun Fact: CIMON’s name is, in part, a reference to ‘Professor Simon Wright’, the robotic assistant – or ‘flying brain’ – in the Japanese science fiction series ‘Captain Future‘ from the 1940s.

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at

Research & Innovation Executive, IBM Research - IBM Watson

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