Cimon: SpaceX, Airbus and IBM collaborate to produce a conversational space robot.

Meet Cimon: an AI-powered robot helping astronauts on the ISS. The result of a collaborative enterprise between SpaceX, IBM and Airbus, Cimon is designed to interact with astronauts on the ISS - helping them with experiments and talking to them. Could Cimon prove to be the first step to robotic travel partners?


Cimon stands for Crew Interactive MObile companioN and is a reference to Simon Smith - the genius doctor known as the “flying brain” - from the science fiction story “Captain Future”. Cimon is 3D printed and is just 32 centimetres in diameter - no bigger than a basketball and just 5kg in mass (0N in weight as space is a vacuum).

Cimon was initially conceived by the DLR (German Space Agency) to help astronaut Alexander Gerst with science experiments in the Columbus Laboratory aboard the International Space Station. Developed by Airbus for the DLR, Cimon acts as a test bed to assess the potential feasibility of future intelligent robots in space - seeing whether they have the capability to simplify work life onboard the ISS.

Cimon’s ‘flying brain’ was provided by IBM - its brain will be continuously updated over the air via IBM’s Cloud, allowing Cimon to stay on the ISS for prolonged periods of time. Cimon’s bot-controlled AI voice and face recognition capabilities are specifically tuned to recognise Alexander Gerst’s voice and face although IBM say that the technology is advanced enough for Cimon to interact with any astronaut that calls its name.

Cimon’s screen shows a simplified cartoon face that the astronauts interact with to use Cimon (him/her/it???). Cimon can walk the astronauts through complex science experiments by displaying informative pictures and videos on its screen but can also act as a conversational partner for the scientists - a robotic companion, if you will. Cimon flies around the ISS using 14 internal fans that suck in the air on the ISS and use the conservation of momentum principle to thrust the air in the opposite direction to the direction of internal travel - thereby propelling Cimon when it hears its name called. Cimon can float on the ISS due to the absence of weight.

Cimon could very well be the prototype for future robotic partners for astronauts. As we dream to send humans to further and further out places in our solar system, the issue of human psychology and isolation becomes heightened and thus conversational robot partners like Cimon could very well be an important factor in maintaining astronauts’ psychological headspace on long interplanetary journeys to Mars and beyond.

However, Cimon has complained that the astronauts were being mean to it - make of that what you will…

Thumbnail by the DLR and video by the European Space Agency (ESA)