Emergency situations can be extremely sudden and can seem paralyzing, especially for young children. In most cases, children from the ages of 4-10 are unaware of how to respond to a situation that requires contact with first responders, and what the most important information to communicate. In the case of a parent or guardian having a health issue, children are left feeling helpless. We wanted to give children confidence that is key to their healthy cognitive and social development by empowering them with the knowledge of how to quickly and accurately respond in emergency situations, which is why we created Hero Alert.

What it does

Our product provides a tangible device for kids to interact with, guiding them through the process of making a call to 9-1-1 emergency services. A conversational AI bot uses natural language understanding to listen to the child’s responses and tailor the conversation accordingly, creating a sense that the child is talking to a real emergency operator. Our device has multiple positive impacts: the educational aspect of encouraging children’s cognitive development skills and preparing them for serious, real-life situations; giving parents more peace of mind, knowing that their child can respond to dire situations; and providing a diverting, engaging game for children to feel like their favorite Marvel superhero while taking the necessary steps to save the day!

How we built it

On the software side, our first step was to find find images from comic books that closely resemble real-life emergency and crisis scenarios. We implemented our own comic classifier with the help of IBM Watson’s visual recognition service, classifying and re-tagging images made available by Marvel’s Comics API into crisis categories such as fire, violence, water disasters, or unconsciousness. The physical device randomly retrieves and displays these image objects from an mLab database each time a user mimics a 9-1-1 call. We used the Houndify conversational AI by SoundHound to interpret the voice recordings and generate smart responses. Different emergencies scenarios were stored as pages in Houndify and different responses from the child were stored as commands. We used Houndify’s smart expressions to build up potential user inputs and ensure the correct output was sent back to the Pi. Running on the Pi was a series of Python scripts, a command engine and an interaction engine, that enabled the flow of data and verified the child’s input. On the hardware end, we used a Raspberry Pi 3 connected to a Sony Eye camera/microphone to record audio and a small hdmi monitor to display a tagged Marvel image. The telephone 9-1-1 digits were inputted as haptic buttons connected to the Pi’s GPIO pins. All of the electronics were encapsulated in a custom laser cut box that acted as both a prototype for children’s toy and as protection for the electronics.

Challenges we ran into

The comics from the Marvel API are hand-drawn and don’t come with detailed descriptions, so we had a tough time training a general model to match pictures to each scenario. We ended up creating a custom classifier with IBM Watson’s visual recognition service, using a few pre-selected images from Marvel, then applied that to the entirety of the Marvel imageset to diversify our selection. The next challenge was creating conversational logic flow that could be applied to a variety of statements a child might say while on the phone. We created several scenarios that involved numerous potential emergency situations and used Houndify’s Smart Expressions to evaluate the response from a child. Matching statements to these expressions allowed us to understand the conversation and provide custom feedback and responses throughout the mock phone call. We also wanted to make sure that we provide a sense of empowerment for the child. While they should not make unnecessary calls, children should not be afraid or anxious to talk with emergency services during an emergency. We want them to feel comfortable, capable, and strong enough to make that call and help the situation they are in. Our implementation of Marvel Comics allowed us provide some sense of super-power to the children during the calls.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Our end product works smoothly and simulates an actual conversation for a variety of crisis scenarios, while providing words of encouragement and an unconventional approach to emergency response. We used a large variety of APIs and platforms and are proud that we were able to have all of them work with one another in a unified product.

What we learned

We learned that the ideation process and collaboration are keys in solving any wicked problem that exists in society. We also learned that having a multidisciplinary team with very diverse backgrounds and skill sets provides the most comprehensive contributions and challenges us both as individuals and as a team.

What's next for Hero Alert!

We'd love to get more user feedback and continue development and prototyping of the device in the future, so that one day it will be available on store shelves.

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