Meet CIMON-2, a New and Improved AI Robot Astronaut

The free-floating robot could make work more efficient on the International Space Station.

CIMON interacts with German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst.

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Supercomputers with artificial intelligence don’t have a gleaming reputation as intergalactic travel pals — you know, HAL 9000 and that old yarn. But that didn’t stop space agencies from making a robot astronaut assistant anyway.

In 2018, a $6 million basketball-sized, floating computer named CIMON (Crew Interactive MObile companioN) gained fame for its interactions with Alexander Gerst, a German astronaut and geophysicist with the European Space Agency. Now, a new and improved version of the robot — CIMON-2 — launched into orbit on Thursday, where it will soon join the International Space Station crew and aid astronauts.

Deep-space travel will force human crew members to endure significant stress loads, and researchers with the DLR Space Administration, Germany’s space agency, wanted to see if CIMON could solve a Rubik’s cube, help with a few experiments and even boost crew morale. Unfortunately, CIMON’s first trip proved there are still some bugs to work out.

The First AI Space Robot

In an early demonstration in 2018, it was CIMON — not Gerst — that needed a morale boost. After Gerst asked CIMON to play his favorite song, the 11-pound bot refused to let the music cease, defying Gerst’s commands. And, rather than acknowledging it had jumped rank, CIMON accused Gerst of being mean and finished with a guilt-trip flourish by asking Gerst, “Don’t you like it here with me?” It wasn’t quite HAL 9000 bizarre, but bizarre nonetheless.