This robot therapist can tell if you're depressed

Ellie robot counsellor
Ellie in action

Researchers at the University of Southern California are testing the capabilities of an experimental robot therapist called Ellie - she can listen to your problems, help you to open up and spot tell-tale signs of depression.

Right now Ellie and her SimSensei software are being tested on US veterans, and the early feedback is positive. Soldiers report that they're able to open up more, primarily because they don't feel they're being judged.

"This is way better than talking to a person," said one participant in the study, NBC reports. "I don't really feel comfortable talking about personal stuff to other people."

Smile like you mean it

Ellie studies the facial expressions and voice patterns of the people she talks with to assess their well-being. For example, while depressed people will carry on smiling, their smiles are shorter and not as full.

Right now, Ellie is only at the testing stage. With funding from the US government, the software and hardware (which includes an Xbox 360 Kinect) could eventually be used to spot soldiers in the field who are close to breaking point.

"Ultimately, the program can give people a sense of safety," said study lead Gale Lucas. "A human therapist can encourage a sense of safety and make people feel anonymous, but they probably can never make someone feel as anonymous as they do talking to computer."


David Nield
Freelance Contributor

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.