German-engineered emotion-sensing robot heads to space | News | DW | 06.12.2019
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German-engineered emotion-sensing robot heads to space

CIMON, equipped with emotion-sensing voice detectors, has become the latest artificial intelligence-powered astronaut launched into orbit. Its mission: to safeguard the mental health of its human companions.

The artificial intelligence-powered astronaut CIMON was under way to the International Space Station on Thursday, after being launched from Florida by the private company SpaceX.

The robot, known as the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion 2, or CIMON 2 (pronounced Simon), is equipped with microphones, cameras and special software to detect emotions.

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The empathetic robot is expected to join future missions to the International Space Station and help protect astronauts from mental health risks, as they face long-term isolation and communication lags.

The German creators of the plastic 3-D printed robot upgraded it from its 2018 prototype to enable it to show empathy to humans.

The English-speaking robot was built on algorithms created by US information technology giant IBM.

CIMON is expected to spend up to three years at the ISS, three times longer than its recently returned predecessor.

"The overall goal is to really create a true companion. The relationship between an astronaut and CIMON is really important," IBM's Matthias Biniok, the lead architect for CIMON 2, told Reuters. "It's trying to understand if the astronaut is sad, is he angry, joyful and so on."

Biniok said his goal is to provide crew members with continuous updated robotic helpers, particularly at the moon and mars.

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An 'objective outsider'

Engineers designed the robot to assist space crew members in carrying out scientific experiments. CIMON is also being trained to help prevent groupthink — a behavioral phenomenon in which isolated groups of humans can be prone to make irrational decisions and face risks of conflict and disagreement.

"Group-thinking is really dangerous," Biniok said. One of the robot's most important function would be to act as "an objective outsider that you can talk to if you're alone, or could actually help let the group collaborate again," he explained.

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.

CIMON in Columbus Laboratory Abord ISS with astronaut Alexander Gerst

CIMON has been designed to be empathetic to its human colleagues and ward off mental illness

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The project 

CIMON was among the 2,585 kilograms (5,700 pounds) of supplies and experiments aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on its 19th resupply mission to the ISS.

Intended to show scientists how muscles change in the microgravity of space, 40 live mice were also part of the cargo.

SpaceX is the first private company to fly to the ISS, a $100 billion project (€90 billion) comprising 15 nations.

The space station currently is home to three Americans, two Russians and one Italian.

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mvb/dr (AP, Reuters)

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