IN SCHOOL

'Flying brain' takes off to space

CIMONPhoto: T. Bourry/ESA/DLR via AP  

A ball-shaped artificial intelligence robot nicknamed the “flying brain” because it is trained to follow and interact with a German astronaut blasted off Friday toward the International Space Station aboard SpaceX's Dragon cargo ship.

A spare hand for the station's robotic arm, an experiment to measure plant stress and a study of a new cancer treatment were also on board as the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

'Historic' AI experiment

A key piece of cargo is a basketball-sized device called CIMON, or Crew Interactive MObile CompanioN.

It has been described as a “flying brain” by Manfred Jaumann, head of microgravity payloads at Airbus.

CIMON's activation will mark “a historical moment,” becoming the first robot of its kind to interact with people in space, said Christian Karrasch, CIMON project manager at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), during a NASA press briefing Thursday.

CIMON will be powered by more than a dozen propellers to help it zip around and avoid bumping into things inside the Columbus module of the space lab. The goal for this flight is mainly to demonstrate the technology works. The robot should be able to guide Gerst through various science procedures, showing videos or pictures as needed. Gerst can also ask the robot questions beyond the simple procedure at hand. AFP