When Mom or Dad spends long tours of duty far from home while serving in the military, their kids sometimes need extra understanding, encouragement and emotional support.
If a parent dies in combat, these children can struggle mightily to cope with the loss and adjust to a new reality. Understandably, they’re at greater risk for depression and other mental-health problems. According to a recent study, one-quarter of such kids contemplate suicide.
Creative agency We Believers is stepping up with Ai Buddy, an artificial-intelligence system designed to assist youngsters caught up in such difficult situations.
The technology features a kid-friendly interface with a cast of cute cartoon characters, including a teddy bear, a monkey and an oversized, cuddly purple beetle.
According to the project film below, “Ai Buddy will be trained by psychologists and pediatricians to be able to work closely with the kids and respond immediately during a crisis. It collects information from close relatives by scanning email, text and social media to become a virtual member of the family.”
Known for its innovative initiatives—such as the edible six-pack rings it made for Saltwater Brewery that feed, instead of kill, marine life—We Believers generated the Ai Buddy concept for social-services client VidaxCenter.
“Every day, words like ‘war,’ ‘nuclear bombs’ and ‘massive destruction’ show up in the updates from the news apps,” We Believers co-founder and creative chief Gustavo Lauria tells Adweek. “So, we decided to develop something that at least can solve part of the problem” by helping kids who lose a parent on the battlefield.
Ultimately, Ai Buddy will be programmed to have real-time conversations with children, read them stories, assist with homework, give advice, and even scan physical inputs to detect potential emergencies (such as elevated heart rates, which could aid medical professionals in diagnosing depression or anxiety disorders).
Designed to be accessible across multiple devices, Ai Buddy boasts an AR/VR component for deeper immersion. For example, kids can don headsets and play virtual Frisbee in their living rooms with the aforementioned beetle.
That sounds kind of addictive, especially for youngsters struggling through tough times. Lest they grow too dependent, Ai Buddy “will be set up to expire after a careful process,” we’re told in the video, “once the child is psychologically ready to let it go.”
Currently, the team is finishing up a prototype, and hopes to “be on track for the final minimum build by the end of the year,” says Marco Vega, co-founder and strategy chief at We Believers. “The anticipated investment for this stage will be on the lower end of six figures. We anticipate our first rollout 8-12 months from today.”
Initially, “the focus will be in the U.S. for an English Ai Buddy, and the next language we will incorporate is Spanish,” says Gonzalo Alonso, chief executive at digital consultancy ClowderTank, which is handling product development. “Once Ai Buddy is fluent and trained in both, we will proceed with training in other cultural contexts and languages. We will also develop a more basic SMS-based version in different languages for those countries with no smartphone penetration or limited internet access.”
Ai Buddy would be offered to military families free of charge.
“Funds will flow from government entities, private donors or foundations,” says Vega. “Further down the road, our AI-as-a-service model will allow for the API to be available for independent developers to add functionalities, and for parents.”
Though the email scanning and data gathering components must be handled with care—and the team assures us they will be—the concept seems big-hearted and in tune with the times. Accessing functions via phones, tablets and familiar devices keeps the system from seeming too intrusive. (A 3-foot-tall bot-buddy would just feel creepy.)