IBM AI-powered robotic assistant returns to space with ability to read astronauts’ emotions

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CIMON (pronounced “simon”), the world’s first AI-powered astronaut assistant, is returning to the International Space Station.

Today, the US freighter SpaceX blasted off carrying on board the robot, which operates with a slight smile on its screen face. However, this time around, it will have a heightened ability to analyze human emotion.

With this new update, the voice-controlled, free-flying robot has transformed from a scientific assistant to an empathetic conversational partner, a huge development for AI-powered assistants.

“CIMON-2 has more sensitive microphones and a more advanced sense of orientation,” explained Till Eisenberg, CIMON Project Manager at Airbus, in a statement.

“The AI capabilities and stability of the complex software applications have also been substantially improved.”

Developed to help astronauts with their many tasks and research activities, CIMON, which stands for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, can display instructions and record images during an experiment. It can also read from manuals and give conversational responses.

As was the original CIMON, which spent 14 months in space and, the new and improved CIMON-2 is a joint project by IBM, Airbus and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

CIMON 2.0 has been updated with IBM Watson Tone Analyzer from the IBM Cloud.

The analyzer helps CIMON evaluate astronauts’ emotions and react to them according to the situation – if the astronauts choose to engage with the feature, or if the emotional analysis is tested as part of an experiment.

“When it was first deployed on the ISS, CIMON proved that it could understand not only the content within its given context, but also the intention behind it, using IBM Watson” said Matthias Biniok, IBM Lead Watson Architect for Germany, in a statement.

“CIMON-2 expands the use of Watson to now analyze the tone of what is being said, another capability of Watson’s natural language processing. With these Watson capabilities, provided from the IBM Cloud in Frankfurt, CIMON-2 can now evaluate the emotions of the astronauts and respond to the situation in an appropriate way if this is desired by the astronauts or if its emotional analysis capabilities are being tested as part of an experiment.”