IBM Artificial Intelligence-powered Astronaut Assistant returns to space with “Emotional Intelligence”
On December 4, a SpaceX rocket was launched from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, taking an enhanced CIMON-2 back to the International Space Station (ISS).
The first Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON), developed by IBM on behalf of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Airbus, returned in August having spent 14 months in space.
The world’s first AI-Powered Astronaut Assistant, CIMON made its debut on the ISS in November 2018, responding to a command from German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst by saying, “What can I do for you?”
About the size of a medicine ball, the voice-controlled floating robot assisted in crystallisation experiments, demonstrating its ability to manoeuvre within the ISS’s Columbus research module while recording video and images.
“It proved it could understand not only the content within its given context, but also the intention behind it, using IBM Watson,” says Matthias Biniok, IBM Project Manager, Watson AI.
CIMON-2 goes a step further with its heightened ability to evaluate human emotions or, as Biniok calls it, “Emotional Intelligence”.
Based on its analysis, CIMON-2 will empathically respond to situations as appropriate.
CIMON-2, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence
Developed to help space astronauts with their many tasks and research activities, CIMON-2 – just like CIMON-1 – can display instructions and record images during an experiment.
It can also read from manuals and give conversational responses.
The objective of the improvements to CIMON-1’s already considerable abilities, according to the researchers who fine-tuned the robot after its first successful mission aboard the spacecraft, is to transform CIMON from a scientific assistant into “an empathetic companion” and valued crew member.
“It has better software and better hardware that has been improved based on the outcomes that we had with mission one,” Biniok explains, adding, “and we have also some new features.”
Engineered for improved orientation within the tight quarters of the ISS, CIMON-2 has also been Equipped with ultrasonic sensors. A dozen internal rotors enable it to manoeuvre weightlessly, follow a space astronaut autonomously or on command, and nod or shake its head when listening.
A better listener than its predecessor, and more responsive to comments and voice commands, CIMON-2 includes enhanced microphones, cameras, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies.
As Till Eisenberg, Airbus Project Manager for CIMON, says, “CIMON-2 has more sensitive microphones and a more advanced sense of orientation. The AI capabilities and stability of the complex software applications have also been substantially improved.”
For example, CIMON-2’s IBM Watson Assistant grants the airborne unit its conversational capabilities, while Watson Speech to Text services enable speech recognition and text transcription.
CIMON-2 and the IBM Watson Tone Analyzer
IBM Watson Tone Analyzer technology, delivered from the IBM Cloud, enables CIMON-2 to utilise linguistic analysis to detect and assess an astronaut’s emotions from the tone of a conversation.
“So for example, on the Artificial Intelligence side,” Biniok continues, “we have something called Emotional Intelligence, based on our IBM Watson Tone Analyzer, with which we’re trying to understand and analyse the emotions during a conversation between CIMON and the astronauts to see how they’re feeling — if they’re feeling joyful, if something makes them angry, and so on.”
If CIMON-2 senses that a space astronaut is challenged by a task, for example, it can offer assistance or encouragement.
This could help CIMON evolve into a robotic countermeasure for something called “groupthink”, Biniok believes, a phenomenon wherein a group of people who work closely together gradually have all their opinions migrate toward consensus or similarity.
A CIMON with emotional intelligence could detect when this might be occurring, and react by either providing an objective, neutral view — or even potentially taking on a contrarian or “Devil’s advocate” perspective, Biniok says.
According to Till Eisenberg, CIMON-2 has an extended lifespan too: “It is planned that CIMON-2 will stay on the ISS for up to three years and support the crew.”
Over the coming years, CIMON-2 could make work a bit more efficient on the space station, helping pass on instructions for repairs, documenting experiments, and offering voice-controlled access to reference material.
CIMON-2 and IBM Artificial Intelligence: a modern approach
How can CIMON-2 assist you and your clients?
CIMON-2 utilises the very same Watson technology used by businesses in customer service centres to automate interactions, or in chatbots to detect a customer’s tone during the back and forth of an automated dialogue.
Shouldn’t your clients also be benefiting from the remarkable, space-age capabilities of IBM Artificial Intelligence?
You can explore the advantages of artificial intelligence programming, analytics and machine learning by accessing a large variety of explanatory articles as well as trials of the very latest technologies.