The Crew Interactive Mobile Companion 2, or CIMON 2, is a spherical droid with microphones, cameras and a slew of software to enable emotion recognition.
Matthias Biniok, the lead architect for CIMON 2, said the goal is to really create a true companion. The relationship between an astronaut and CIMON is really important.
“It’s trying to understand if the astronaut is sad, is he angry, joyful and so on.”
Based on algorithms built by information technology giant IBM and data from CIMON 1, a nearly identical prototype that launched in 2018, CIMON 2 will be more sociable with crew members. It will test technologies that could prove crucial for future crewed missions in deep space, where long-term isolation and communication lags to Earth pose risks to astronauts’ mental health.
While designed to help astronauts conduct scientific experiments, the English-speaking robot is also being trained to help mitigate groupthink — a behavioural phenomenon in which isolated groups of humans can be driven to make irrational decisions.
“Group-thinking is really dangerous,” Biniok said. In times of conflict or disagreement among astronauts, one of CIMON’s most important purposes would be to serve as “an objective outsider that you can talk to if you’re alone, or could actually help let the group collaborate again,” he said.