An intelligent robot equipped with emotion-sensing voice detectors is headed to the International Space Station to become the astronaut crew's new workmate.
The Crew Interactive Mobile Companion 2, or CIMON 2, is a spherical droid with microphones, cameras and a slew of software to enable emotion recognition.
The droid was among supplies and experiments aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, which launched from Florida on Thursday.
"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."
CIMON 2 will test technologies that could prove crucial for future missions in deep space, where long-term isolation and communication lags to Earth pose risks to astronauts' mental health.
While designed to help astronauts conduct scientific experiments, the English-speaking robot is also being trained to help mitigate groupthink -- a behavioral phenomenon in which isolated groups of humans can be driven to make irrational decisions.
"Group-thinking is really dangerous," Biniok said. In times of conflict or disagreement among astronauts, one of CIMON's most important purposes would be to serve as "an objective outsider that you can talk to if you're alone, or could actually help the group collaborate again," he said.
SpaceX is the first private company to fly to the space station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations.
Along with CIMON 2, the cargo aboard its 19th resupply mission to the orbital research lab included 40 live mice that will show scientists how muscles change in the microgravity of space.
Australian Associated Press