The CDC warns that older adults (65 years and older) are at higher risk for severe illness, including the novel coronavirus. As of March 28, 2020, the elderly population accounts for an estimated 8 out of every 10 deaths due to COVID-19. To help this at-risk population, we decided to create a platform to a) aggregate helpful resources for seniors (such as safe senior-only times to visit grocery stores, for instance, or volunteers who are willing to run errands for immunocompromised people) and b) serve as an antidote to quarantine-produced loneliness and elder isolation by providing entertainment options and a sociable chatbot.

What it does

Our app provides a resource for seniors in several ways. Since some seniors aren’t as familiar with modern technology, we decided to incorporate an easy user interface with an interactive chatbot capable of having conversations and answering questions. Our AI chatbot, "Buddi," provides both a verbal and typed response to users’ commands. In addition, seniors can conveniently set reminders through the app by directly chatting with Buddi. The home page contains a compiled list of resources, including a database of special senior-only times to visit their local grocery stores, updated CDC recommendations, and self-care strategies. The app also provides a platform for a caretaker to track the location and current status of the senior, which might come in handy after the outbreak. After the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the app will also provide recommendations based on location for nearby events to build community and combat elder isolation, but for now, that portion of the app is dedicated to ideas for at-home entertainment.

How we built it

We used Swift, Xcode, Cocoapods, and Dialogflow to create our app for use on iOS platforms. We also used HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and a Python Flask backend to create an accompanying website to describe the app’s features and publicize downloading our app:

Challenges we ran into

Some challenges that we ran into include figuring out how to use Cocoa Pods in order to connect the AI from Dialogflow to Xcode, coming up with good data to train our AI (Buddi) in DialogFlow, and navigating the Google Maps API (pun very much intended). Also, as high school juniors, it was hard for us to put ourselves in the position of our target users in order to determine the best features and user experiences.

Accomplishments that we’re proud of

We’re proud of having created a fully functional AI that links to our app and implementing advanced technical aspects that we taught ourselves along the way. We’re also proud of applying our technical skills (which we learned at the Kode With Klossy mobile apps camp last year, shoutout Karlie Kloss) to produce something with a broader social impact.

What we learned

We had never created a chatbot before, so we had to teach ourselves how to use DialogFlow and connect it to our app. We also learned that it’s important to plan in phases using top-down design and start with a basic viable prototype and keep improving, instead of dedicating time to smaller, less important features. There were a lot of additional features we would have liked to include if we had more time and weren’t also overwhelmed with schoolwork.

What's next for Buddi

We will continue to add features to make the app easily accessible and more useful for seniors. In the future, we plan on connecting our app to local Nextdoor or Facebook lists of volunteers to help with shopping or necessary errands. We also think it would be helpful to include a feature for seniors to connect with family members and other people in the community. After the stay-at-home guidance has been lifted, our app could also help list community events, senior-tailored exercise (including recommended nearby walking routes) and provide a means for caretakers to check in on seniors. We will also try to connect our app to different meditation apps (HeadSpace, Calm, etc). We also plan on incorporating live video sessions for seniors to participate in based on their interests. After these features are built, we will launch Buddi to the App Store on Apple and Android.

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posted an update

Although we didn't make this clear in our submission, we wanted to express our thanks to the Congressional App Challenge team for sharing the details about this hackathon! It was amazing to be able to have the opportunity to participate in such a large and impactful global event and come up with our own app for social good, as high school juniors :)

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