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 5,700 pounds (2,585 kg) of supplies and experiments aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, whose midday launch had been delayed from Wednesday due to high winds.
"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."
Based on algorithms built by information technology giant IBM Corp (IBM.N) and data from CIMON 1, a nearly identical prototype that launched in 2018, CIMON 2 will be more sociable with crew members. It will test technologies that could prove crucial for future crewed missions in deep space, where long-term isolation and communication lags to Earth pose risks to astronauts' mental health.