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ISS artificial crew member relies on Faulhaber drive

ISS artificial crew member relies on Faulhaber drive

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst returned to the International Space Station (ISS) in June as part of the Horizons Mission, which sees him taking over as station commander. The renowned geophysicist and volcanologist took with him a new member of crew: the CIMON astronaut assistant.

CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) is a free-flying technology demonstrator, intended to support astronauts during routine work by, for example, displaying procedures or offering solutions to problems. A scientific project, it represents the first use of artificial intelligence (AI) on the ISS.

With its soft voice, a screen that displays a friendly face, and its artificial intelligence, CIMON is intended to operate as a true colleague to the ISS crew members, with whom it can engage in a genuine dialogue. The mission companion is intended to, among other things, lighten the load during daily routine work and to function as an early warning system in the event of technical problems.

The artificial assistant was developed on behalf of the Euroepan Space Agency (ESA) at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) by Airbus in Friedrichshafen. CIMON is about the same size as a medicine ball and weighs about 5kg. Not that its weight is relevant in zero gravity, where CIMON floats freely in space and, on command, flies to any astronaut who needs its help.

It moves by means of fourteen small propellers which transport it to the desired position and keep it there. They are driven by brushless DC-servomotors of the 0824 series from Faulhaber and controlled with speed controllers of the SC1801 series. The motors – available in the UK from EMS – were selected on account of their reliability and longevity, combined with very small dimensions, low weight and low energy consumption.

The Horizons Mission is Gerst’s second spell on the ISS, after he spent six months on the Station in 2014 for ESA’s Blue Dot mission. In this latest mission, scheduled to end in December 2018, which will see him perform a number of experiments and tests, CIMON was specifically developed as a technology demonstrator to help him, and uses – among other things – voice samples and photos of him. Gerst will perform three tests in particular with the mission companion: the astronaut and his assistant will experiment with crystals, together solve the Rubik’s cube and perform a complex medical experiment in which CIMON will announce the individual steps and serve as an ‘intelligent’ flying camera. While Gerst will return to earth at the end of the mission, the artificial helper will remain on board and lend assistance during future missions.

Faulhaber specialises in the development, production and deployment of high-precision small and miniaturised drive systems, servo components and drive electronics with output power of up to 200 watts. The product range includes brushless motors, DC-micromotors, encoders and motion controllers. In addition, Faulhaber also offers customer-specific complete solutions for, among other areas, medical technology, automatic placement machine, precision optics, telecommunication, aerospace and robotics. Faulhaber has more than 1,900 employees worldwide.

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