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Kinect-powered SimSensi can diagnose depression by tracking body movements and facial expressions

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There's no doubt that enterprising hardware enthusiasts are finding uses for Microsoft's Kinect that go far beyond gaming. Take SimSensi, for example — a digital interface that asks questions to help diagnose potentially depressed individuals. SimSensi performs its initial diagnosis not by analyzing the response to the questions it asks, however — it uses webcams and the Kinect sensor to measure facial changes and body language to help adjust the questions it asks and to provide a measure of a person's state of mind. If a respondent shifts uncomfortably in his seat, looks down for an extened period of time, or gets overly animated while responding to a question, SimSensi takes note and change its line of questioning and provide feedback for humans to examine regarding the person's mental state.

SimSensi's creators tested it by interviewing 60 people, half of whom had been already diagnosed with severe depression — the system was highly successful in its assessments. The machine accurately diagnosed 90 percent of those people with whom it "talked." While the physical signs that SimSensi tracks may seem obvious, diagnosing depression remains one of the more difficult challenges facing medical professionals, so any system that can help confirm such suspicious could be a valuable tool.