CIMON Says: Design Lessons in Space

Designing for Microgravity

While the design may have been inspired by science fiction, the spherical shape has a more practical application in a microgravity environment (Figure 1). Till Eisenberg, project manager at Airbus Friedrichshafen, said that the primary challenge was to create a robot that would be accepted by the astronauts.

Designing the Face and Voice

The ability to maintain eye contact and communicate are essential skills for an assistant, so the service bot needed a face. In CIMON’s case, the face is a simple line drawing displayed on a front-facing screen (Figure 2). As mentioned earlier, acceptance by the astronauts was one of the engineers’ primary challenges. The team invited Gerst to be a part of the design phase to ensure CIMON was an assistant with which the astronaut would work. Gerst was presented with several voices and faces to choose from, ensuring he would be happy with the result, while providing him with a sense of ownership and familiarity when he and the robot finally met on the ISS.

Designing Interconnect Systems

CIMON depends on a great deal of space-grade connector and cabling technology to provide high-reliability operation in such an extreme environment. Space-grade interconnect technologies call for extensive qualification to meet high-performance standards established by governing authorities in order to ensure compliance where failure would lead to catastrophic damage or losses. Reliability is of utmost priority to ensure the success of the mission, so special materials are often warranted to ensure performance. While space itself is extremely cold, internal heating of components may exist that have limited conventional cooling, exposing connectors and cabling to potentially extremely wide and dynamically modulating temperature extremes. Small size and low mass are important to ensure that things fit into the limited available space and that mission objectives for overall payload size and space are maintained. Retention forces and mating connections must be ensured so that under extreme conditions connection failures are not realized.


Scientists are also hoping to use CIMON to observe the group effects that develop in small teams over extended periods of time, such as during extended missions to the moon and eventually Mars. They want to understand more about the social interaction between humans and machines as well. That interaction is significant because Eisenberg said that someday service robots, acting as flight attendants, could potentially play an essential role in those long missions.



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