On August 14th 2018, we held our first Open Digital Lab Meetup in Darmstadt, Germany. Our intention is to share ideas, skills, and practical experiences around technology; we want to glean insights from data and assist individuals to make use of them. For our debut, we had an exhilarating topic: Artificial Intelligence which is currently in use on the International Space Station! Read on to discover all about CIMON and our first Open Digital Lab Meetup.

Darmstadt is a southwestern German city of science, home to research institutions and both a strong industrial and technical community. Our meetup group is a joint initiative between Technische Universität Darmstadt and IBM to connect enthusiasts from the university and enterprise space.

At our very first Open Digital Lab Meetup, we started with a warm welcome and brief introduction by Michael Mrose, Technical Sales Manager, IBM Cloud. Then we explored how AI technology is entering human spaceflight. Sophie Richter-Mendau, Technical Sales Specialist and CIMON’s personality expert, introduced us to CIMON, explaining all about the first autonomously flying robot, it’s capabilities and technology. Sophie also shared a variety of witty anecdotes – which lead to extensive discussions between our participants.

Photo: Courtesy of Airbus

What exactly is CIMON?
In June, German astronaut Alexander Gerst started his second six-month mission on the International Space Station (ISS), he will serve as station commander for the second half of his stay. On this mission, Gerst and his team will receive some unusual support from CIMON, who will also be on board. CIMON stands for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion: a medicine ball-sized artificially intelligent device, weighing almost 5kg, with a digitally expressive face, able to navigate in zero gravity. Created by Airbus, German Aerospace Center (DLR) and IBM, this is the first AI-powered astronaut assistant in space.

What is especially impressive about CIMON, is that it uses IBM Watson cognitive capabilities running on the IBM Cloud in Frankfurt, Germany. Latency was reduced to a minimum to ensure natural interaction between the robot and the astronauts. Alexander Gerst is using the flying robot through October, during which CIMON assists with experiments, each one can consist of more than 100 different steps – CIMON knows them all. CIMON also interprets data, solves problems, checks off tasks like a digital assistant, and is generally a useful little robot. Sometimes he is even in the mood to tell a joke.

How does CIMON learn?
CIMON has been trained to identify its environment and its human interaction partners. AI gives the space assistant text, speech and image processing capabilities, as well as the ability to retrieve specific information and findings. These skills can be trained individually and deepened in the context of a given assignment. Each skill is developed based on the principle of understanding – reasoning – learning. Watson speech and vision technologies helped train CIMON to recognize Alexander Gerst. Watson Visual Recognition was used to learn the construction plans of the Columbus module on the International Space Station to easily navigate the ISS.
Read more about the technology behind CIMON.

In the second part of our meetup we took a closer look at one of the key underlying technologies of our Artificial Intelligence solutions, Watson Assistant. During this short deep-dive, we learned both the methods and best practices to build our own intelligent assistant. All attendees built their very own pizza delivery bot, able to take orders for a variety of different sizes and delicious ingredients. Their reward could not have be more suitable, plenty of family sized pizzas arrived just as soon as the group finished the workshop. One of the attendees, who works for a German railroad company, brought some school students with him. The 12-year-olds had absolutely no difficulties to follow the hands-on exercises, they also wanted to implement another chatbot for ordering beverages. This was amazing to witness!

It was a fantastic debut for our Open Digital Lab Meetup and a very valuable evening for all of our 30 attendees. Not only were the presentations and hands-on exercises very interesting, but the discussions with students and individuals from different companies and industries afterwards were especially fascinating. Ultimately this is what makes a meetup so exciting. We cannot wait for the next one with TU Darmstadt and to grow our community!

Discover more
Join our Open Digital Lab Meetup in Darmstadt
Code pattern: assemble your own pizza-ordering chatbot dialog
Discover more about CIMON
Follow CIMON on Twitter
Watson Hops On Board Human Space Flight by Matthias Biniok, IBM AI Project Lead

Vote for Sophie Richter-Mendau for Digital Female Leader
Our upcoming events in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland
IBM Germany University Relations

Did you know? You can sign up for a free IBM Lite Cloud Account, which attendees did to join the hands-on session: https://ibm.biz/BdY4Uj

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