An artificial intelligence (AI)-based app that offers mental health support for veterans has been released, through a partnership between the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (USC ICT) and SoldierStrong Foundation.The developers received a $1 million grant from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) specifically Mission Daybreak, the Veteran Affair’s, year challenge worth in excess of twenty million dollars, aimed at reducing veteran suicide through a thorough public health strategy. In the last twenty years, USC ICT, a research center affiliated with the US Army University, has placed emphasis on practical research in many fields, including the following:
- immersive technology
- human performance
- computer graphics
- artificial intelligence (AI)
- mixed reality
To support US army veterans, SoldierStrong Foundation offers technology and educational possibilities. To address the various existing issues, USC ICT and SoliderStrong decided to develop a smartphone application to mitigate the rate of suicides among army veterans, who are susceptible to mental conditions following their service in the US army. The smartphone application, Battle Buddy, features a virtual human companion that communicates with the user passively via the phone or wearables such a smartwatch to provide services for tailored wellness, mental health, and suicide prevention.
“Integrating virtual humans with mobile health applications opens up new opportunities to connect with veterans and overcome some of the barriers associated with suicide prevention,” said Sharon Mozgai, project leader and associate director for medical virtual reality at USC ICT. “
The VA awarded the capital in Phase 2 of funding for the Battle Buddy tool through Mission Daybreak. Out of 1,371 candidates, ten winners, including the Battle Buddy app, were selected. The USC ICT/SoldierStrong team received an intial $250,000 in the Phase 1 grant allocation in November, and subsequently continued development for eight weeks as part of the Mission Daybreak accelerator. This involved the team next headed to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate the Battle Buddy prototype and give a long-term research and development vision for the program, to gain a competitive advantage over the thousands of other candidates. Veterans had higher age- and sex-adjusted suicide rates than non-Veterans among U.S. adults in every year of the last twenty, beginning in 2001. The difference between the adjusted rates for veterans and non-veterans was of the least significance in 2002 and the biggest in 2017, where it was approximately sixty six percent higher for in veterans. The veteran’s suicide rate was over fifty percent higher than regular citizens of the United States, in 2020.