17/09/2015 12:09 BST | Updated 17/09/2015 12:59 BST

Scientists Develop Virtual Therapist To Aid Depression Diagnosis

A team of scientists have developed a virtual person, named Ellie, to help medics diagnose depression.

The avatar will be able to ask questions and pick up on non-verbal cues from potential patients while also being responsive and showing encouragement.

Researchers at the Institute for Creative Technologies, University of Southern California have fitted Ellie with a sensor and a webcam that will monitor facial expressions, body movement and tone of voice.

Ellie works alongside a type of technology known as MultiSense.

This includes two modules, one for vision -- tracking facial features such as smile, gaze, attention and activity -- and the other for speech.

While Ellie may appear to fulfil the role of a real-life therapist, her creators are quick to point out that she won't replace trained professionals.


Professor Louis-Philippe Morency, who worked on bringing Ellie to life, said she was simply a "support tool," The Guardian reports.

“The best analogy I give people is the blood test,” Morency said.

“When a human doctor has questions about the symptoms of a patient, he/she will order a test of a blood sample. These results will help with the diagnosis of the illness. Ellie is there to help gather and analyse an ‘interaction sample’.”

Ellie is part of the university's SimSensei project - "a virtual human platform specifically designed for healthcare support."