There are currently over one million homeless people in the United States, many lacking the resources necessary to survive and thrive. Of those, there are 63,000 youth aged 18-24 alone in LA county as of 2016.
Last week, one of our teammates, Rachit Kataria, met with Dr. Eric Rice, an Associate Professor at USC and Co-Director for the Center on Artificial Intelligence for Society. They discussed how AI could be used to ameliorate the lives of the homeless youth, especially leveraging the fact that almost 85% of them have access to the internet. Rachit shared his and Dr. Rice’s thoughts with us on the current state of LA's homelessness and we all felt that this was a cause worth dedicating our weekend towards.
Hoping to create a positive impact on the lives of these homeless youth, we created Claire Bot, a chatbot companion providing crucial survival resources to homeless youth on the go!
What it does
Using the latest artificial intelligence technologies and APIs, Claire Bot is a constant companion for homeless youth in the Los Angeles area. She will be able to help them find resources, such as homeless shelters, food banks, and free health clinics, wherever they are and take advantage of inaccessible support systems available to them in their area.
We also created Clairify, an iOS application that serves as an anonymous peer-to-peer platform for homeless youth to connect with counselors! This extends the functionality of Claire Bot beyond AI, and adds a human touch that is necessary in this field.
How we built it
We built our AI chatbot with the following technologies: Facebook’s Messenger platform for all UI-related functionality, Api.ai to handle our Natural Language Processing of user input, Google Maps API to provide directions from one location endpoint to another, Python webhooks deployed to Heroku in order to serve additional API functionalities and handle custom responses
Challenges we ran into
Integrating external web hooks to Api.ai for our Messenger chatbot to provide additional functionality beyond the default responses was a very trying procedure. We spent several hours using different hosting implementations to connect with Api.ai until we successfully deployed a Heroku application with the necessary Python scripts!
Accomplishments that we are proud of
We truly believe that Claire Bot has the potential to positively impact the 63,000 homeless youth of LA, a portion of the population that is often forgotten by more privileged. It was a rewarding experience putting ourselves in these youth’s shoes, if only momentarily, and developing an app that had a larger vision for the community.
What we learned
This was our first time building a chatbot! We learned how to incorporate natural learning APIs, deploy apps to Heroku, and create custom responses based on HTTP posts to Facebook. We also learned a great deal about the various support systems that are available to homeless people.
What's next for Claire Bot
We hope to work closely with Dr. Rice to spread Claire Bot to the surrounding homeless population in LA, and eventually expand beyond Los Angeles. We also hope to integrate more custom responses as provided by skilled social workers in order to create a more tailored conversation.