STAMFORD, Conn., Feb. 16, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — A collaborative effort between SoldierStrong and the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies has been awarded $1 million in the Veterans Administration’s Mission Daybreak Challenge to reduce veteran suicides, program organizers announced today.
The collaboration, known as Team BraveMind, developed a virtual human wellness app that provides on-demand virtual peer support through remote monitoring and virtual human interactions to help Veterans build resilience against suicide. The app, dubbed Battle Buddy, was recognized last year as one of 30 finalists to receive $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Mission Daybreak Award among 1,371 submissions.
“Addressing the crisis of veterans taking their own lives requires more than recognizing, acknowledging, and even investing in prevention efforts. Solutions will come through innovative approaches that are only possible through relationships that share valuable information and capitalize on each partner’s strengths,” said Chris Meek, SoldierStrong’s co-founder and chairman. “Effectively leveraging real-time data via easy-to-implement technology can – and will – significantly enhance individual wellbeing and aid efforts to reduce the overall number of suicides.”
Meek said the project would not have succeeded without the backing that SoldierStrong receives from United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, and the Graham and Courtney Rahal Foundation.
Following the challenge’s first phase, the 30 finalists advanced to the Phase 2 Virtual Accelerator Program, which helped them develop ambitious but achievable roadmaps for prototyping, iteration, testing, and evaluation. Technology partners supporting the accelerator included Amazon and Microsoft. In November 2022, finalists had the opportunity to speak about their solutions with challenge judges and representatives from VA, VSOs, Capitol Hill, and policy institutes at Demo Day, held at the Samsung Executive Briefing Center in Washington, D.C.
SoldierStrong and USC-ICT were recognized for our efforts to advance the use of technology to prevent suicide through Battle Buddy, a virtual human-led mobile mental health and wellness application. This interactive, embodied conversational agent leverages content related to the VA’s Suicide Safety Planning program embedded within brief daily check-ins with veterans. The Virtual Human will also allow veterans to opt-in to connect their wearable sensors to the app, leveraging sleep, exercise, vocal analytics, and other sensed signals to their overall well-being.
The multidisciplinary judging panel – representing a diversity of perspectives, from Veterans and clinicians to social workers and technical experts – evaluated submissions from the 30 finalists in Phase 2. The panel recommended the 10 winners based on the official evaluation criteria. Following Mission Daybreak, VA may engage with select solutions through contracts, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), or other partnership vehicles.
Visit MissionDaybreak.net for more information about the challenge.
SoldierStrong is a national nonprofit dedicated to connecting veterans with revolutionary medical technology to help them take their next steps forward in life after service. Since its inception in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11, SoldierStrong has donated $5.4 million in life-changing, state-of-the-art medical devices to VA medical centers and individual veterans across the country. This technology includes the virtual reality hardware and software known as BraveMind, which SoldierStrong has so far donated to 22 VA hospitals, as well as SoldierSuit exoskeletons to aid in the rehabilitation of paralyzed veterans experiencing mobility setbacks from strokes, spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries to help them regain the ability to stand and walk again, hyper-advanced prosthetics, and the iBOT® Personal Mobility Device.
About University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies
The USC Institute for Creative Technologies is a U.S. Army University Affiliated Research Center (UARC). For over 20 years, USC ICT has been at the forefront of basic and applied research in immersive technology, simulation, human performance, computer graphics, artificial intelligence, mixed reality, and narrative. USC ICT has leveraged this multi-disciplinary research to develop advanced prototypes and pilot projects that solve real-world problems facing service members, civilians, students and society. In two short decades, the USC ICT’s work pushed “a quantum leap in helping the Army prepare for the world, soldier, organization, weaponry and mission of the future.”