back to article CIMON says: Say hello to your new AI pal-bot, space station 'nauts

The International Space Station will get its first AI-powered friend-droid by next week, after it was bundled into a Dragon capsule and launched into orbit aboard a Space X Falcon Rocket on Friday. It’s a weird looking circular unit measuring five kilograms with no arms or legs, just a rectangular screen, kind of like a giant …

  1. Camilla Smythe

    Simon Says...

    "Blah Blah Blah."

    Crew Says...

    "Fuck Off Simon."

    1. hplasm

      Re: Simon Says...

      Shut up, Proto-GERTY!

    2. TheVogon

      Re: Simon Says...

      Let's hope the Astronauts haven't seen the Doctor Who episode "Smile" !

  2. MiguelC Silver badge

    Is NASA sending 5-year old austronauts now?

    That's the proper target for a bot like the one described.....

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Is NASA sending 5-year old austronauts now?

      If that picture shows the actual face of the bot, I'm fairly certain what will become a target fairly soon after it is deployed. I mean, would YOU want that thing smirking at you all the time? WTF were the designers thinking?

      Note to NASA: I don't need or want a face on a floating ebook viewer.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Is NASA sending 5-year old austronauts now?

        Who says it's going to be smirking all the time? It'll probably have some evil demonic face as it takes control of life support systems.

        1. Aladdin Sane

          Re: Is NASA sending 5-year old austronauts now?

          No, just a glowing red lens.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Is NASA sending 5-year old austronauts now?

      As soon as I started reading, that was the first thought that crossed my mind too. Anyone who manages to get to the ISS is highly trained, highly intelligent and very dedicated. They are not going to be the best people to test drive a Fisher Price toy in a highly challenging and potentially highly dangerous environment where it's untested abilities are more likely to slow down the work than assist in it.

      Stick some wheels on it and do it somewhere safer, on Earth, where the range of people who can be testers is wider. At least then, when someone punches its lights out, all the sharp bits will fall to the floor.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Is NASA sending 5-year old austronauts now?

        Yeah, this thing needed less human like features, and more human relevant features.

        Think less Bucky, and more TARS. :)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is NASA sending 5-year old austronauts now?

      "WTF am I doing here? And where's the rest of me?" cried Thomas the Tank Engine.

  3. Christoph

    Does it have a Genuine People Personality?

    1. Alan Newbury

      No, but it has an NVIDIA card running a General Personality Unit...

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Share and Enjoy

  4. Martin Gregorie

    Its interesting to see IBM doing space-rated equipment for NASA again.

    Its been a while, but they did design and build the onboard command and control computers used in both the Apollo CM and LM spacecraft. IIRC they were the first computers designed for direct interaction with people, i.e. fitted with a calculator-style keyboard and numeric display panel rather than requiring a teletype or greenscreen terminal. They were among the first computers to use transistor logic and were similar in power to an Apple II, Trash-80 or Commodore PET.

    1. Jim Mitchell

      More recently, the laptops on the ISS were Thinkpads. Don't know if they still are. Not explicitly "space-rated", but sturdy and end-user repairable (well, some product lines).

    2. jake Silver badge

      The ACGs were not built by IBM.

      They were built by Raytheon.

      Edit: I'm no fan of Wiki, but on a whim I took a look. They actually have a fairly decent article on the subject. Worth checking out, if you're unaware of this bit of history.

      (My spall chucker doesn't know Raytheon, thinks it should be Pantheon ... rectifying, but it makes me wonder what else they aren't teaching the kids coding things these days ...)

    3. Jim Mitchell

      IBM page on "IBM and space flight":

      list of items:

      No Apollo CM or LM items listed.

    4. 's water music

      Evil twin

      Its interesting to see IBM doing space-rated equipment for NASA again.

      Its been a while

      They probably wanted to give people time to forget the name change from HAL before going overboard on the space project PR

  5. Tchou

    AI all over again

    It's AI hype all over again just like in the 90's

    It's no news marketeers are on a 15-20 years schedule merry-go-round.

    Welcome in space son of Clippy!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: AI all over again

      "It looks like you are trying to re-enter Earth's atmosphere. Can I help?"

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: AI all over again

      "Welcome in space son of Clippy!"

      The Beeb's article made it sound more like an animated Clippy than Alexa. Maybe they're breeding. We're doomed, I tell ye, dooooomed.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Creepy cartoon face--check!

    All we need now is for it to start talking about how it has "stimulating relationships with humans" and it's "utmost enthusiasm for the mission".

    Has it learned to read lips?

  7. Toolman83

    But can it make toast?

    And direct all conversations towards toasted bread products?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    AI in space?

    Didn't Arthur C. Clark already warn us?

    Only bad thing will come of this.

    1. Frank Bitterlich

      Re: W.O.O.

      Apparently none of those involved have ever watched Dark Star.

      Or maybe they have, and just have an evil sense of humour. And want to see the crew explainin phonomenology to that thing...

  9. Grikath


    That thing looks like a prime candidate for an unscheduled de-orbiting by airlock.

    The WTF?! factor on this thing is off the charts....

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Is it just me or does that thing look a bit like the clown in Stephen Kings "It" ?

    IOW a bit f**king sinister.

    In other news

    Robot tries Turning Test with German scientist

    A game with no winners?

    It can float around like a beach ball. That just reminds me of the Rovers in The Prisoner.

    Something else you didn't want to be caught by.

    1. Sherrie Ludwig

      Re: Is it just me or does that thing look a bit like the clown in Stephen Kings "It" ?

      Actually, I was thinking "Wilson" from Castaway. But less useful.

  11. Zebo-the-Fat

    Nevermind the AI, I want that coffee!!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “Open the bay doors, CIMON”

    “I can’t do that, Dave”

  13. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I know IBM's getting a bit short-staffed these days but it does look as if it was designed by some youngsters visiting from a local school. A primary school.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mission Control Log, Day 2, CIMON Experiment

    MC: Morning Alexander! How's things

    AG: Err... fine thanks MC

    MC: How's CIMON working out? Has he been a big help on board?

    AG: Oh, yes! He.. yes!

    MC: Put him on, one of the engineers wants to check something

    AG: ..... Er... your breaking up ...

    MC: Strange, all comms look good this end

    AG: .....<crumples paper>... <makes white noise sound> ...

    MC: Can you hear us AG? One more thing, if you could investigate an anomaly we spotted from the airlock 12 hours ago, we'd appreciate it, seems like some debris was jettisoned outside of the normal schedule.

    AG: ...

    MC: AG? You hear us? OK, we'll pick this up tomorrow.

  15. Chris G

    Wilson on a chip

    But less useful, even 790 from Lexx would have been more interesting than this.

    Unless it falls in love with another crew mate.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      But less useful, even 790 from Lexx would have been more interesting than this.

      I wonder if that's where they got the idea of a screen for a face from?

  16. ThatOne Silver badge

    > it's thought CIMON may be useful as a plastic pal that's fun to be with.

    Those things you usually hide in a drawer, under the clothes... You don't let them float around.

  17. chuckufarley Silver badge

    Well if...

    ...they expect it to "...hope to use it to see how it can monitor and contribute to spacemen's well being and group morale." then wouldn't it cheaper and more reliable to send up 5kg of condoms?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Well if...

      From what I've heard, it would likely be very frustrating because, apparently, there are no boners in space.

      And if you're alone, they wouldn't be much use anyway.

  18. Pen-y-gors


    A random thought. How well does a caffetiere perform in zero-G?

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Coffee?

      How well does a caffetiere perform in zero-G?

      I would imagine that the actual coffee-pressing bit works quite well (it works from pressure, not gravity). However, the pouring bit might not work so well in micro-gravity (*not* zero-G.. to get zero-g you'd need to be in an absolutely flat bit of space-time - and even then you would be generating some gravity. And being in orbit round a massive chunk of rock doesn't qualify).

  19. spold Silver badge


    Latest twist - instead of being RA'd you will now be "Canned" into one of these and "Fired" into orbit instead, there are no separation packages in space except between the rocket stages - don't expect all happy faces...

  20. AIBailey

    Am I the only one that thinks this looks like GERTY from the film Moon?

    1. 's water music


      Nope, that was the first thing that struck me. I am guessing that Kevin Spacey didn't get the gig to voice it though.

      To all the people sounding off about how punchable this thing seems, perhaps that is the point. Nothing unites a team better than getting together to rag on a common enemy. Probably still best to turn up the aircon fan and cover your lips with a hand while you do it though

    2. Puuru

      I thought it looked more like Holly from Red Dwarf.

  21. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "contribute to spacemen's well being and group morale"

    I'm thinking that, after a vigorous session with a blunt object, group morale will be much higher.

    CIMON will be forever silent though.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    This will not end well...

    I've seen how this one goes. Disney made a documentary on it, entitled "The Black Hole"!

  23. mhoulden

    Are you sure it isn't Yes Man from Fallout New Vegas?

  24. Michael Kean


    Give me the plant!!

    Reminds me of that thing in Wall-E - some sort of talking ships steering wheel thing with a bad attitude. Edit: It was called "AUTO"

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Captain!

      You learn something new every day, I thought he was really called Otto...

  25. joma0711

    One reason alone for testing aboard the ISS... it can float, y'know, just like _all_ AI assistant type things do in the movies, wherever they are.

    Of course, in "real life" (or what passes for it these days) the only place they can readily do this is in micro-gravity.

    Seems a poor reason to harass the ISS crew with it though.

  26. Phil Dalbeck

    The big question...

    Is it equipped with lasers and a drill to protect the crew from Maxmillian when he tries to blend them on the apex of a black hole's gravity well?

  27. pctechxp

    Portal 2 taken literally

    Anyone else think this might have been slightly influenced by the AI character Wheatley from Portal 2.

    Let's just hope this one doesn't turn bad and has an off switch?

  28. T. F. M. Reader

    That one letter shift AGAIN???

    AI for spacecraft? Made by IBM? HAL, is that you?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't be too careful

    I suppose they're trying it out in orbit in case something goes wrong...

  30. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Fracking Toasters

    A mix of GERTY the "Moon" Computer and Simon The Flying Brain from Captain Future?

    Add in a Battleship Galactica "Airlock Incident" and we are all set.

    "Buh Bye Watson".

  31. Dave800

    The amazing thing about this 'product' is that top-notch AI engineers must have laboured long into the night to create this thing - so it really tells you exactly how advanced AI technology has become!

    It makes you wonder if they have run out of research to do on the ISS.

  32. Tom Paine

    And when it breaks down....

    and starts to annoy,

    or grinds when it moves

    and gives you no joy,

    'cos it's eaten your hat

    or had sex with your cat,

    bled oil on your floor

    or ripped off your door

    and you get to the point

    you can't stand any more...

    ...then what, eh?

  33. This post has been deleted by its author

  34. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    "CIMON may be useful as a plastic pal that's fun to be with."

    But will it, or the marketing department responsible for it, be first against the wall when the (space) revolution comes?

  35. 0laf Silver badge

    Will it have Kevin Spacey's voice? That couldbe creepy in the middle of the night.

  36. Gary Bickford

    How about a non-rectangular screen and camera

    For this purpose it's not really necessary to have a rectangular view.

    There's actually a pretty good alternative, which could be built although it would require an alternative fab facility, which is not going to happen soon.

    Back in the mid-1980s a company whose name I forget, in the Denver area, was working on an interesting scanning and display architecture that merged the vectorizing/recognition task and the image capture and compression task. It was based on a fractal tiling based on hexagonal cells. At the display resolutions available at that time it was not a very good fit with the common rectangular viewports - vertical lines were represented by slightly wiggly lines. But today that's no longer a problem.

    The cool thing about it (without going in to detail) was that the breakdown of the image into hexagon-based fractal trees accomplished a substantial compression of the data and _simultaneously_ a first order vectorization of the image. It was also demonstrated that a similar image reconstruction algorithm was as fast or faster than a pure rectangular bit map.

    As a bonus of sorts, it mapped well to many other non-rectangular display - or scan - viewports, such as facial simuations - essentially it was better at every 'natural' object than rectangular viewports.

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