This talking robot is becoming the companion that these solitary humans need!
Loneliness and isolation are things that most of us are dealing with in these strange times, but astronauts have been isolating since before it was recommended. With their isolation taking place hundreds of miles above their home planet, astronauts need a little more than Netflix and memes to keep them feeling normal. CIMON-2, a learning, social robot, is being tested in its mission is to help isolated astronauts reduce their stress and task load, and since solitude seems to be a side-effect of the current pandemic, we could learn a thing or two from this little, circular robot.
While CIMON-2 is essentially a robot who can interpret voice commands, it is much different than an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant you may have at home. CIMON-2 has the ability to detect a variety of emotions and tones so it can empathize as it converses, and can nod or shake its round "head."
European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano ran several tests on the robot before returning to Earth in early February and confirmed that CIMON-2 was very "consistent" when it came to following voice commands to navigate around the space station. This awesome little bot also assisted Parmitano with tasks by reading instructions for procedures out loud and taking photos and videos pertaining to research.
Even though these procedural milestones are huge accomplishments during CIMON-2's three-year journey, one of the main goals for this model was to analyze how a companion, even a computerized one, can reduce stress in individuals who are experiencing the repercussions of social isolation. Matthias Biniok, IBM project lead for CIMON, explained that CIMON-2 uses the "IBM Watson Tone Analyzer" to interpret and understand the moods of the astronauts. This gives this bot a sort of compassion to the person it is interacting with, which can be huge in combating the effects of social isolation.
With humans on Earth and in space dealing with social isolation, it's worth a few minutes to dive into the repercussions of what little interaction can do to our brains and bodies. Studies have shown that regardless of age or race, loneliness can contribute to depression, declining functions in the cardiovascular system, and impair the immune system. If CIMON-2's empathic programming can help curb the loneliness of astronauts, think of how much good a FaceTime call to your friends or family can help them, and yourself, through these trying times!
What is your favorite way to battle feeling lonely during social distancing? Let us know in the comments!