When it comes to voice-controlled artificial intelligence in science fiction, smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa are mixed.
We’ve seen it in everything since 2001: Space Odyssey to Star Trekand the latest example resonates with Amazon’s Rohit Prasad, senior vice president and chief scientist for Alexa. It is this symbiotic and optimistic connection between space travelers and the responsive technology that Prasad hopes to embody in Alexa’s biggest mission to date: flying to the moon.
Amazon announced in January that his intelligent Alexa assistant will board the first of NASA’s three missions, Artemis, which will return to the moon in 2020. From the start, the Artemis 1 launch setup includes a very large 3.5 million-pound rocket called the Space Launch System, which will propel approximately 16 feet in diameter Orion space capsule to the moon with Alexa, built into the spacecraft’s shield as part of a payload called Callisto. (Here’s a great explanation in The Verge about the drama and fun behind it Space launch system.) The Artemis 1 mission will be unmanned and will orbit the moon instead of landing on it.
“The need to communicate with a machine has had a reason in the fiction,” Prasad said in a new mini-documentary following the process, from Amazon’s point of view, of the literal lunar shot. “Star Trek It was a big influence on me as a child – the fact that you can just talk to a computer and fulfill your demands was mind-boggling for me. ”
Like the Artemis 1 mission itself, Alexa’s preparation for space travel presented some unique challenges for Amazon and its partners Lockhead Martin and Cisco. Unlike the environment in which the smart speaker can thrive on Earth, Alexa will no longer have access to cloud data when on board Orion. This meant that the team had to find a way to move the complex steps of voice processing of the system to the device itself. In the future, this learning process could also be used to improve the use of Alexa and remote places on Earth, Prasad said in the documentary.
Even without astronauts on board, Alexa will still test its ability to help people through virtual crew experiences between the Johnson Space Center and the Orion spacecraft in near real time. Maybe one day, for busy astronauts on their way to the moon, Alexa will be able to access Orion’s telemetry data and answer questions like “How fast is Orion traveling?” Or “What’s the cabin temperature?”
Even further in the future, the Amazon team imagines that Alexa can offer companionship to deep space travelers.
Still, despite all the potential benefits of having Alexa on board, the team behind Callisto says it’s just as important to prepare for the system’s failure as well as its success. In this way, even if Alexa or Callisto fails, the mission itself is not threatened or faced 2001-like a crisis.
After some unsuccessful wet rehearsalsArtemis 1 is expected to make a fourth rehearsal attempt this June with an expected launch no earlier than August, According to NASA officials at a recent press conference. With any luck, Alexa will make her space debut by the end of the year.
Watch the short documentary below and follow NASA’s Artemis updates on its blog, here.