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Informatics and emotional health

Certain studies have demostrated that 5 to 10% of the European population suffers from depression. What can computing do to help out?

Depression is an illness that affects many people in the developed countries. For this reason, an organization called i2cat, associated to UPC, has been working on a project to help using informatics people who suffer depression. This project is a colaboration with a Spanish health institution, the University of Edimburg and an Italian company.
You might have seen in some movies futuristic houses with a computer that, not only serves its function, but also interacts with the user through an avatar, a digital image that takes a human shape. The Help4Mood project takes this idea and uses it to help people who suffer from depression.
The big problem with depression is that, from a medical point of view, it affects the pacient when he is at home, and usually he does not ask for help. This fact can have catastrofic consequences, and therefore researchers have been working on a system of sensors distributed all around the patient’s house to detect a change in his mood.
The sensor system is capable of detecting if the patient spends too much time in bed, does not eat enough (does not visit the refrigerator) or, in general, does not move around much. All of these are symptoms of depression, and if the system detects this case it can alert the doctor in charge.
Furthermore, the Help4Mood project implements an avatar, also called Virtual Agent, to help the patient interact with the system. The avatar is capable of cheering up the patient, or even ofering a small social relationship.
Nevertheless, this project is not a first in this area. The Japanese company Fujitsu developed a teddy bear similar to the one in the movie “Artificial Intelligence” capable of analyzing the mood of people surrounding it and respond. This gadget is not only usefull for patients who suffer from depression, but also as a learning tools for children or as a surveillance tool for older people.

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