Enabling at-home speech, language and social interaction therapy
Speech, language and communication difficulties are a common and unfortunate symptom of neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease or dementia, or in those recovering from a stroke.
For the one in 100 children with autism disorders, social and communication difficulties often present themselves at a very early age and can be carried throughout their entire lives.
These difficulties can severely affect a child's development, and can lead a person of any age to withdraw and socially isolate themselves, with further implications on their mental and physical health.
Unfortunately, support for communication recovery, management or improvement can be expensive and time consuming, and isn't often able to support a person's day-to-day activities outside of a clinical setting.
We’ve developed a unique smartphone chatbot app for at-home social and communication therapy.
Our researchers at the Australian eHealth Research Centre, together with the University of Queensland, developed Harlie, a smartphone app that uses AI technology and natural language processing algorithms to chat with humans – much like Apple's Siri or the Google Assistant does.
The difference with Harlie, however, is that the app's complex programming can provide therapy, education and virtual companionship for those who have special needs, are afflicted with a health condition or are even just lonely.
Rather than simply respond to questions, Harlie can ask insightful questions of the user, and can interpret and appropriately respond to declarative and exclamatory statements, such as: "It’s my first day at school today," or, "the kids teased me today."
Harlie can converse on a variety of topics, from travel and music to family and pets, in a judgement-free environment. During chats, Harlie can capture information on the user's speech, including articulation, vocabulary range and the length of mid-sentence pauses. Harlie can process and pass this information, with consent, to health and research teams to aid further research and provide more targeted therapy.
The AI technology backing Harlie is the result of more than five years' collaborative research conducted by computer scientists, clinical and social researchers, as well as individuals who suffer from health conditions, their carers and their wider community.
Thanks to this AI, Harlie's capabilities can continue to evolve through input from clinicians, teachers and app users themselves.
We’ve received funding to trial the technology behind Harlie in a variety of settings
We’re working with the Autism CRC and Curtin University on a pilot study, investigating the use of chatbots like Harlie to support adult tertiary students on the autism spectrum.
Our team has also received funding for more activities involving AI:
- a chatbot helping to build bullying-resistance skills for children on the autism spectrum
- a chatbot to complement genetic counselling sessions, working with Melbourne Genomics Health Alliance
- an automated call system to interact with and support individuals recently discharged from hospital.
In 2019, Harlie was a merit recipient for Research and Development Project of the Year at the Australian Information Industry Association’s Queensland iAwards.
Related to this page
- Hello Harlie: Enabling Speech Monitoring Through Chat-Bot Conversations
- The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA)
- Sentimental Analysis for AIML-Based E-Health Conversational Agents
- Social Fringe Dwellers: Can chat-bots combat bullies to improve participation for children with autism?
- Designing a Chat-Bot for Non-Verbal Children on the Autism Spectrum