“Ellie” the Virtual Analyst has it right down to the ‘uh-huhs’ in responding to her patients, but she really excels at taking the measure of body language. According to the NPR interview with University of Southern California’s (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies’ lead developers, psychologist Albert “Skip” Rizzo and computer scientist Louis-Philippe Morency, “Ellie tracks and analyzes around 60 different features — various body and facial movements, and different aspects of the voice. The theory of all this is that a detailed analysis of those movements and vocal features can give us new insights into people who are struggling with emotional issues. The body, face and voice express things that words sometimes obscure.” Movement is tracked by Microsoft Kinect, voice by a microphone. This is the flip side of their original telementalhealth research from last year with simulations of virtual patients for training psychiatric residents [TTA 14 Aug] and PTSD assessment [TTA 28 Oct 11]. Like both of these, this was originally commissioned by the US Department of Defense for PTSD diagnosis, so Ellie provides a report at the end of each session. Your Editor also thinks there’s commercialization potential in the growing category of ‘couch apps’. [TTA 11 May] If Your Shrink Is A Bot, How Do You Respond?