More Emotional CIMON-2 Robot Assistant Returns to ISS

07 Décembre, 2019, 08:08 | Auteur: Therese Cote
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IBM's CIMON2 robot is heading to the International Space Station

Beyond that, CIMON-2 could help with putting AI into the cloud for future space flights, effectively giving astronauts nearly unlimited knowledge and data. "The relationship between an astronaut and CIMON is really important", Matthias Biniok, the lead architect for CIMON 2, told Reuters.

Developed by IBM, CIMON 2 is the second iteration of the AI crewmember (CIMON 1 launched in 2018), but will be more sociable than its predecessor, and could prove crucial in exploring how machines can support humans- practically and emotionally- in future space exploration. Astronauts can even instruct CIMON to take a picture of something on the station and get in touch.

"CIMON-2 includes more sensitive microphones, more robust computers, and IBM Watson Tone Analyzer technology, which uses linguistic analysis to detect emotion from the tone of a conversation", IBM wrote in a blog post. Despite these constraints, astronauts on the International Space Station must be highly productive on a very tight time schedule. "The AI capabilities and stability of the complex software applications have also been substantially improved". CIMON-2 was already in the works, full of upgrades that were deemed necessary during the first robotic test.

CIMON-2 and the original CIMON robot look like floating balls with a flattened side.

IBM and Airbus designed the first cyborg-companion for the ISS a year ago only for CIMON to refuse following instructions and even accuse crew members of being "mean". "This allows CIMON-2 to transition from a scientific assistant into an empathetic companion, as required".

Till Eisenberg, CIMON Project Manager at Airbus, explained: "CIMON-2 is expected to remain on the ISS and support the crew for up to three years". It can also respond to human emotions thanks to IBM's Watson Tone Analyzer.

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CIMON's creators said they had been inspired by a 1940s science fiction comic series set in space, where a sentient, brain-shaped robot named Professor Simon guides the astronaut Captain Future. He can even nod and shake his head - which is essentially all CIMON's body consists of. CIMON can also support experiments - imagine that you're an astronaut up there, you have complex research experiments going on, and there's a huge amount of documentation for that.

"Studies show that demanding tasks are less stressful if they're done in cooperation with a colleague", Biniok said.

And for anyone having flashbacks to Hal from "2001: A Space Odyssey", astronauts can even ask CIMON what he thinks about the sci-fi AI and he'll respond with "I'm afraid I cannot do that" in the same eerie tone.

This seems to be the thinking behind the idea to put an emotion-sensing robot into space, where long-term isolation and communication lags can pose a risk to astronauts' mental health.

Commenting on the launch, Dr Christian Karrasch, CIMON Project Manager at the German Aerospace Center Space Administration in Bonn, said: "CIMON-1 - our prototype - landed back on Earth on August 27, 2019 after spending 14 months on the ISS, and has now arrived at Airbus in Friedrichshafen". "On a journey to the moon or Mars, the crew would be able to rely on an AI-based assistance service, without a permanent data link to Earth".

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