A new astronaut buddy departed this Thursday aboard a Falcon 9 heading for the International Space Station (ISS). Called Crew Interactive Mobile Companion 2 (CIMON 2), it is a robot capable of sensing emotions and aims to act as an aid in which relations between astronauts may suffer some degradation due to long periods of isolation.
CIMON 2 was developed in partnership by IBM, Airbus and the German Aerospace Center. As the name implies, it is not the first robot of its kind to be developed for the purpose of creating a companion for astronauts. By 2018, ISS astronauts were able to interact with a spherical robot that, in addition to supporting different routines and scientific experiments, was able to hold conversations in English. The second version of this 2.5 kg robot will already be prepared with algorithms that will allow to detect emotions from the speech of humans, as well as explore social relationships with humans.
The new social facet of the robot is intended to guard against potential emotional situations that could have negative effects on astronaut welfare. «The main objective is to create a true companion. The relationship between an astronaut and CIMON is really important, ”explains Matthias Biniok, the robot's developer, when interviewed by Reuters.
Through social interactions, the robot should be able to perceive the emotional state of the interlocutors. Sadness, joy, or anger may be the emotional states that function as the main reference for individual emotional states – but the robot does not lose sight of the relationships between different astronauts.
The robot that is admittedly inspired by sci-fi titles will pay special attention to so-called group thinking, which can lead to conflict or harmful effect decisions, because individual opinions, even when justified or more accurate, are suppressed in exchange for the peace of the collective. With the artificial intelligence provided by IBM, CIMON 2 can act as a potential emotional support that allows you to establish conversations with those who eventually consider themselves affected by group thinking phenomena.
Matthias Biniok admits that group thinking can have negative effects on the pursuit of ISS missions, and points to this emotional robot as “an outsider who has objectivity and can be talked to when alone, or even can help the group get back together ».
In the accompanying video on this page you can see the first version of the CIMON robot interacting with astronaut Alexander Gerst.