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

This fully autonomous $400 drone folds like a book, follows you like a paparrazzo

Having a drone that could follow you everywhere while taking high-quality images without crashing has been a flight of fantasy. With ZeroZero's Hover 2, not only can you have a fully autonomous 4K selfie drone, you can have it for $400.

These are the best Xbox One games available right now

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in November, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Dracula’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Emerging Tech

These Alexa-stuffed retro phones don’t listen until you take them off the hook

Looking for an Amazon Echo with a cool vintage touch? Los Angeles-based Grain Design is taking old, non-working antique phones and transforming them into amazing Alexa smart speakers.
Smart Home

This alarm clock uses targeted light and sound to wake you, but not your partner

The Wake v2 isn't like your typical bedside alarm. Instead, it wakes you by shining a soft light directly into your face, thereby not disturbing the person sharing a bed with you. Pretty smart, huh?
Emerging Tech

Believe it or not, this fire-proof exoskeleton isn’t designed for space marines

A company called Levitate Technologies has developed a fire-resistant upper body exoskeleton that’s capable of lowering exertion levels by up to 80 percent when you carry out manual work.
Emerging Tech

Intel’s new ‘neural network on a stick’ aims to unchain A.I. from the internet

To kick off its first developer conference in Beijing, Intel unveiled the second generation of its Neural Compute Stick -- a device that promises to democratize the development of computer vision A.I. applications.
Emerging Tech

Frogs regrow ‘paddle-like’ limbs when placed in a bioreactor

Frogs have partially regrown amputated limbs thanks to a bioreactor at Tufts University. By jump-starting tissue repair, the bioreactor helped the amphibians regenerate a bigger, more complete appendages than they usually do.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

China says it has developed a quantum radar that can see stealth aircraft

Chinese defense giant China Electronics Technology Group Corporation claims that it has developed a quantum radar that's able to detect even the stealthiest of stealth aircraft. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Glass orb packs all the constellations in the night sky into fancy desk ornament

Ever wanted to know more about the star constellations? A stunning new Kickstarter campaign, taking the form of a fancy desk ornament that re-creates the night sky in a glass orb, aims to help.
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.