HAL, meet CIMON 2: Space station robot can detect emotions of astronauts

Built-in privacy controls prevent IBM’s CIMON 2 from being an active bugger.

HAL, meet CIMON 2: Space station robot can detect emotions of astronauts
Built-in privacy controls prevent IBM’s CIMON 2 from being an active bugger.

The Crew Interactive MObile Companion 2 (CIMON) that works with astronauts on the international space station, now uses a tone analyzer to detect emotions during a conversation.

The Watson team at IBM has added this skill to the standard set of Watson capabilities. CIMON 2, as it is now called, joined the six astronauts at the ISS during a supply mission last week.

In addition to the software update, the hardware upgrade included more sensitive microphones and an advanced sense of orientation for CIMON. Airbus and the German space center are the other members of the CIMON project.

Matthias Biniok, head of Watson architect, said IBM uses the tone analyzer to understand how CIMON converses with the astronauts.

“We’re trying to understand how the machine learning model works with what astronauts say,” he said.

CIMON takes on verbal communication but does not analyze facial expressions or audio signals. The purpose of recognition and classification is done with natural language processing that is part of the standard set of IBM Watson services, he said.

CIMON does not listen and does not report back to mission control, Biniok said. Astronauts have control over when the tone analyzer is working.

“If we try to analyze emotions for a particular experiment, astronauts will have to activate the function proactively,” said Biniok.

Biniok said that CIMON 2 has built in privacy controls, partly because the EU GDPR is completely orbited. When CIMON is enabled, data is streamed from the ISS to the earth and back through the Watson AI components on the IBM Cloud.

“CIMON has two buttons: one switches it off,” said Biniok. “The other option is the offline button – it breaks all AI components and the internet connection. The astronauts can also activate this function with a voice command.”

When CIMON is in offline mode, it holds its position, closes its eyes and “sleeps.”

“We wanted to implement this so that the astronauts feel that they are in control of CIMON, which is important for acceptance of the technology,” he said.

Biniok said that one reason the space agencies chose IBM for this project was because of the company’s privacy policy.

“We say that the data and models are always the customer’s and that you can decide whether you want IBM to use your data to improve our own algorithms,” he said.

SEE: Artificial intelligence: a guide for business leaders (free PDF)

The software identifies these emotions using natural language processing:

  • agitated
  • frustrated
  • Rude
  • Polite
  • sad
  • Satisfied
  • Sympathetic

CIMON’s orbits in space

The main responsibility of the round robot is to be a laboratory assistant while the astronauts carry out scientific research projects at the ISS. CIMON reminds crew members of the series of steps required to conduct research experiments. The crew can ask CIMON 2 what the next step is or which tool is the right one to use. CIMON also does mobile video documentation for the astronauts.

“The astronaut can say,” Come here, turn 30 degrees and hold “or” Go to experiment 64 and take a picture, “he said.

Biniok said that CIMON has a formal work personality and a more informal conversation mode. When the robot helps with research projects or documentation, its tone is helpful and very simple.

“One of my colleagues describes CIMON as a typical German – very simple, very short answers and always trying to help,” he said.

CIMON also has a small talk mode when it tries to meet the needs of an astronaut at some point.

CIMON is completely autonomous and flies through the space station. The AI ​​components from CIMON are executed by the IBM cloud in Frankfurt, Germany. Airbus supplied the components for guidance, navigation and operation of the robot. The German space center is the third partner in the collaboration. CIMON’s first trip to the international space station IS in 2018 and he came back to Earth earlier this year.

The Dragon spacecraft from SpaceX brought crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory to support the Expedition 61 crew for the 19th mission under NASA’s contract for commercial supply services. These scientific studies went up on the supply flight with CIMON:

The current crew at the space station is:

  • Christina Koch – American, electrical engineer
  • Jessica Meir, Ph.D. – American marine biologist
  • Andrew Morgan, MD – Flight Engineer, American, first aid doctor
  • Luca Parmitano – Crew Commander, Italian, during his second space station mission
  • Oleg Skripochka – Russian cosmonaut, during his third space station mission
  • Alexander Skvortsov – Russian, on his third space station mission

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