Kinect-powered virtual therapists can fully decode a patient’s body language

simsensei kinect virtual therapist

At a glance, the name SimSensei sounds like something that could virtually teach you to be the next Ninja master. Alas, that dream is too far-fetched; SimSensei is actually a Kinect-powered virtual therapist that uses the motion recognition technology to read a patient’s body language, thus determining underlying anxiety, nervousness, happiness, or contemplation.

Developed by a team at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, the SimSensei program is still in its early stages. The beta preview uses a virtual avatar that acts as your shrink, while the second half of the screen uses the Microsoft Kinect to detect changes in the patient’s face and body movements. SimSensei would only record the patient as he or she is verbally responding so the program could see how the patient physically reacts when they are answering questions. These body languages include patients leaning forward or backward on their chair, smiling, prolonged/lack of eye contact, and the directions in which the eyes move.

That’s not to say SimSensei is entirely robotic either. The virtual therapist is even programmed to “Hmm” at appropriate times as if to ponder a response, and guide the patient along their conversation depending on what he or she answers. The point is to make the program look and feel as natural as possible, but that’s also not to say SimSensei doesn’t sound kind of creepy. I may have not been to too many shrinks, but the sample session USC provided in the video below shows a conversation that lacks white noise, feels awkward, sounds a bit intimidating. We’re not sure what’s worse: Trusting a human stranger or a friendly…ish robot with your deepest anxieties.

SimSensei is part of the many programs being developed for the Association for Computing Machinery‘s contest. The competition would compare the programs to see which can most accurately diagnose a patient based on their body language, identifying the correct group of depressed patients from non-depressed ones. Hey, at least if you reveal all your deep, dark secrets to SimSensei or other virtual psychiatrists, you will never run the risk of bumping into them in the street or something equally embarrassing. Meanwhile, students studying psychology have another reason to go back to their dorm rooms and weep themselves to sleep tonight for having chosen a doomed career path. Good thing there’s a robot they can talk to that’s currently in development.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

This list of PlayStation 4 exclusives puts its competitors to shame

The PlayStation 4's game library and incredible selection of exclusive games could make anyone with an Xbox One or Nintendo Switch think twice. Here's our list of the latest and greatest PS4 exclusives.

These are the best indie games you can get on PC right now

Though many indie games now come to consoles as well, there's still a much larger selection on PC. With that in mind, we've created a list of the best indie games for PC, with an emphasis on games that are only available on PC.

Lack of regulation means wearables aren’t held accountable for health claims

As fitness trackers become more like health monitors, some physicians are concerned they can lead to over-diagnosis of non-existent problems. It’s already happening with wearable baby monitors.
Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists have developed elastic microbots that can change their shape depending on their environment.
Emerging Tech

Dinosaurs never stood a chance after asteroid impacts doubled 290M years ago

The number of asteroids pummeling Earth jumped dramatically around 290 million years ago. By looking at Moon craters, scientists discovered that d the number of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon increased by two to three times.
Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.
Emerging Tech

Water-based fuel cell converts carbon emissions to electricity

Scientists from Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have developed a system which can continuously produce electrical energy and hydrogen by dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution.
Emerging Tech

Scientists investigate how massive stars die in dramatic hypernova events

Our Sun will gradually fade before expanding into a red giant at the end of its life. But larger mass stars undergo extreme explosive events called hypernovas when they die which outshine their entire galaxies.
Emerging Tech

Pilotless planes are on their way, but would you fly in one?

Airbus says advancements in artificial intelligence can help it toward its goal of building a plane capable of fully autonomous flight, though whether passengers can be persuaded to travel in one is another matter entirely.
Emerging Tech

‘Tech vest’ prevents Amazon workers from colliding with robot co-workers

Amazon workers at its fulfillment centers are using "tech vests" to help protect them from collisions with their robot co-workers. The robots already have obstacle avoidance sensors, but the belt offers another layer of safety.
Emerging Tech

3D printers are finally affordable. Here are the best models under $500

3D printer prices have dropped dramatically over the past few years, but just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth buying. Here, we’ve rounded up all the cheap 3D printers that are actually worth spending your money on.

T-Mobile 5G rollout: Here is everything you need to know

2019 will be a huge year for T-Mobile. Not only is a merger with Sprint likely, but T-Mobile is also in the midst of building out its next-generation mobile service. Here's everything you need to know about the T-Mobile 5G rollout.