EWING — This tiny blue robot can save a life.

The brainchild of students at The College of New Jersey, MARCo alerts caregivers when an individual is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.

But the robot's many talents in the area of mental health treatment would hopefully prevent an individual from ever reaching those extremes.

MARCo — the mentally assistive robotic companion — is meant to assist individuals suffering from a range of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

The machine's artificial intelligence includes the ability to engage in cognitive behavioral therapy, picking up on key phrases and patterns of speech that can provide insight into one's cognitive state. A camera with facial recognition technology helps MARCo identify its companion's emotional state.

It can also provide guided meditation and track one's heartbeat, all while serving as a "cute buddy" that uses natural conversation from the start.

As of this moment, there is only one MARCo. In its prototype phase, however, the bot has already proven its power to heal.

"I've seen the profound impact it does have on people and how I've had to pry it away from people who just wanted to hold on," said Jacob Boyle, a mechanical engineer student at TCNJ, who created MARCo with fellow student Ryan Chiu.

The pair won a business competition earlier this year, earning $30,000 to help get the project off the ground floor.

"We did this for the people we know and the people who we don't know ... living with a mental illness or living with someone who has one," Boyle said.

Boyle foresees MARCo as a prescribed method of treatment for those suffering from a mental illness. Hospitals, he added, can have several of the bots on hand.

The more people MARCo is exposed to, Boyle said, the quicker it learns. A person's private information would never be shared with another user.

Want to help with MARCo's final design? Take this survey.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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