The crew of the international space station will soon be welcoming a new colleague, although their latest travel companion is not going to be an astronaut.
It is a free-floating intelligent robot head called CIMON (Crew Interactive MObile companioN) 2 that can sense emotions.
This emotionally intelligent astronaut assistant was aboard SpaceX's robotic Dragon cargo capsule which lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida yesterday.
The spherical droid is equipped with cameras, microphones and AI software to enable emotion recognition.
"The overall goal is to really create a true companion. The relationship between an astronaut and CIMON is really important," 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."
Testing New Technologies
During its time at the ISS, CIMON 2 will test technologies that could be beneficial during longer, deep space missions when communication lags and long-term isolation could pose mental health risks.
Additionally, the English-speaking smart droid will help ISS astronauts with experiments and has been trained to help mitigate groupthink. This psychological phenomenon can lead to groups making irrational decisions.
As the name might suggest, CIMON 2 is a next-generation unit and follows the original CIMON which arrived at the space station last summer. The newer version is equipped with a suite of upgrades including more robust computers, more sensitive microphones and an ability to assess and react to astronauts' emotions.
To see the original CIMON in action, watch the video below.