SpaceX launches a floating 'AI brain' to the ISS

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SpaceX's first Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket rolls to its launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in May, 2018.

"CIMON allows the astronaut to keep both hands free, with no need to manually operate a computer, for example", said the German Aerospace Centre. Think HAL 9000 in2001: A Space Odyssey,Moon's GERTY, and Holly in the BBC'sRed Dwarf.

Can artificial intelligence make life easier for astronauts on board the International Space Station? Alexander Gerst, a German astronaut now aboard the ISS, helped design CIMON's screen prompts and vocal controls.

Trained by Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, it was designed by Airbus in collaboration with IBM.

He's the new best friend of an International Space Station astronaut. The point of this pilot project is to see if an artificially intelligent bot can improve crew efficiency and morale during longer missions, including a possible mission to Mars. In addition to delivering genetically identical mice, super-caffeinated coffee, and other supplies, the CRS-15 Dragon capsule contains CIMON, the first interactive flight companion to take part in an ISS mission. That means CIMON can interpret data, respond to commands, solve problems, and generally be a useful little robot without any internet connection - a tricky problem in space.

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Cimon's human handlers promise the robot will behave.

CIMON is equipped with a microphone on back, an infrared camera on the front, two batteries, and perhaps most importantly, an "offline" button.

Speaking to Reuters, IBM engineer Matthias Biniok said, their main mission is to support the astronauts with their daily tasks in order to save time. "They know what to look for, they know what signs they're looking for, they know what's going to have to be replaced".

Researchers hope that with its face, voice and artificial intelligence, it will become a genuine "colleague" on board, helping astronauts with their daily routines, and warning of any impending problems - much like the HAL robot in Stanley Kubrick's 2001 was created to do.

In case you were wondering how close we're getting to "2001: A Space Odyssey", no astronauts named "Dave" are scheduled to fly to the space station anytime soon, according to NASA.

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