Space

Watch ISS crew try not to laugh as their floating robot starts emotionally glitching

The Intentional Space Station can be a fabulous place of learning and wonder. But to get to that wonder, there’s always some troubleshooting to be done – and that work falls to the astronauts crewing the ISS missions.

Take this recent footage of astronauts grappling with CIMON – a floating robot head similar to Siri or Alexa – which seems to still need… a bit of fine tuning.

CIMON, or ‘Crew Interactive MObile companioN’, is a floating ball with a display ‘face’ that weighs about 5 kilograms (11 pounds). It can answer questions, take photographs and videos, display and explain information for experiments or repairs, and even search for objects.

And it seems that the developers have also attempted to give it some personality, with mixed results.

“I come from Friedrichshafen at the lake of Constance. It’s a nice place,” it says.

In the ESA video below, CIMON starts off well, chatting with expedition 56/57 astronaut Alexander Gerst, flying around the station, and helping with instructions to a technical procedure – similar to what CIMON would be asked to do on a trip to Mars.

But when Gerst asks CIMON to play his favourite song, things take a bit of a turn.

The song is Man Machine by Kraftwerk, and when asked to cancel the music mode, it gets pretty defensive.

“Be nice, please,” it requests – followed by “don’t you like it here with me?” and “don’t be so mean please.”

Basically, the robot got a little flustered; or was it just really enjoying the song and didn’t want to turn it off?

You can watch these slightly bizarre interactions just after 3’30” in the video below. In the background, you can see crew member Serena Auñón-Chancellor react with laughter when CIMON asks the astronaut to be nicer to him. It’s just priceless.

As this was a test run, the astronaut also identified a couple of issues with CIMON’s floating ability – it kept wanting to slowly drift towards the floor, rather than stay at a comfortable height to interact with the crew on the space station.

Strange emotional problems aside, both the developers and Gerst are actually pretty happy with the robot’s first outing on the ISS.

Only time will tell how much help this little guy will be in the future.

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