Stockholm psychologist creates “depressed robot” for psychotherapy training

Furhat Robotics and psychologist Robert Johansson have partnered to create a robot which simulates a depressed patient
Robert’s vision is to create several “standardized robot patients” that can be used to practice psychotherapy in a safe and gradual way

Psychologist Robert Johansson (back) speaking with Furhat Robotics CEO Samer Al Moubayed.

More than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression – making it the number one cause of disability globally. Psychotherapy is frequently one of the first forms of treatment patients meet – but it is also a notoriously hard discipline to practice and perfect due to a lack of “standardized patients”, i.e. patients that will behave in the same way over and over again till the therapist is comfortable with a particular scenario.  

But in the near future, social robots could make it easier. Robert Johansson, Associate Professor of Psychology at Stockholm University, and Furhat Robotics have developed a robot which simulates a depressed patient and can be used for safe, standardized psychotherapy training. Johansson has spent the past two years working on the Furhat platform and plans to build several virtual standardized patients that can be used to train therapists.

Johansson has written a blog sharing his insight and his vision for the project. In addition, Furhat Robotics have published a video that gives more details about the partnership.

Says Samer Al Moubayed, CEO of Furhat Robotics:

“This, for us, is a perfect use case for social robots – not replacing human workers but rather empowering us to better help each other, to live happier, healthier lives. The potential of using social robots in healthcare is huge – particularly in areas where it’s not possible to experiment extensively with humans. We truly believe in this project and we are excited to see where Robert takes this next.”

Says Robert Johansson, clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at Stockholm University:

“Most scientists today would say that human-level AI requires physical embodiment, but importantly, the body doesn’t have to be a human body. My goal is to create a simulation of psychological suffering such as depression and anxiety disorders in a robot body.
Furhat is the perfect robot for this purpose as it triggers your attachment system in a way no other form of technology can.”

About Furhat Robotics:

Furhat Robotics is a Conversational AI and Social Robotics startup that has developed the world’s most advanced social robotics platform. The vision of the company is to build a human-like computer interface that enables people to interact with machines in the same way that humans interact with each other.

Based in Stockholm, Sweden and born out of a research project at KTH, Furhat has already won many scientific and innovation awards. The company currently works with over 70 international businesses and development agencies, spanning multiple industry sectors including recruitment, entertainment, transportation and finance.