Page 22 - 2019 Mil/Aero eBook
P. 22

experiments and equipment on the ISS, allowing astronauts to keep their hands free while working. If the crew wanted to capture video for documentation purposes, CIMON could handle that as well.
Designing for Microgravity
While the design may have been inspired by science fiction, its spherical shape has a more practical application in a microgravity environment. Till Eisenberg, project manager at Airbus Friedrichshafen, said that the primary challenge was to create a robot that would be accepted by the astronauts. “Everything in the Space Station is rectangular, and it is a very technical environment. We wanted to have a calm point of focus,” said Eisenberg.
 This is CIMON at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany. (Source: DLR/T. Bourry/ESA)
CIMON’s service as a calm point of focus, along with its ability to make the astronauts’ job more manageable, is important. Judith-Irina Buchheim, a medical researcher at the Ludwig-Maximilian University Hospital in Munich, thinks that the assistance CIMON provides astronauts will reduce their exposure to stress, which researchers believe has an impact on the human immune system. Its simple, spherical shape contrasts to the boxy, technical environment of the ISS and offers other advantages as well.
Because CIMON was the first free-flyer to operate on the ISS, safety was a significant concern. Typically, the rule for a microgravity environment is that everything must be strapped down to prevent objects from floating around and getting into things and places they should not. Eisenberg said that sharp edges or corners would be a hazard as it floats around the ISS bumping against walls, equipment, or the astronauts themselves.
However, even if CIMON’s shape meant it would not hurt anyone, colliding with astronauts trying to work in an already-cramped space could quickly become annoying. To avoid that situation, CIMON is equipped with 12 ultrasonic sensors that enable it to detect obstacles and be aware of incoming objects. These sensors measure the distance from the obstacle or astronaut to CIMON.
Fourteen internal fans allow CIMON to move and rotate in all spatial directions. While CIMON is on the move, a dual 3D camera sensor collects information about the depth and relation from one feature to another and builds a map based on simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithms. In addition, a frontal video camera and face detection software could focus on Gerst’s and the other astronauts’ eyes, allowing CIMON to orient itself to simulate eye contact. For example, if Gerst wanted to get CIMON’s attention when it was otherwise occupied, say looking out the window and enjoying the view, he could simply look in the robot’s direction and speak to CIMON. An array of microphones could detect the arrival direction of Gerst’s voice and prompt CIMON to orient himself until Gerst was in its camera’s field of view in order to establish eye contact.
For their final test before liftoff, Eisenberg and CIMON boarded the ESA’s Airbus A300 Zero-G for a parabolic flight test. Eisenberg described the flight, during which the plane flies up and down at 45° angles, as “a great

   20   21   22   23   24