14-year-old Anudi creates ‘COLBY’ - an AI for loneliness

Apr 28 2021. views 416


Anudi Nupearachchi (14), was one of the many school children who suddenly found herself homebound due to the ongoing global pandemic of 2020. Anudi, a student at Sujatha Vidyalaya Nugegoda, has always had a passion for inventing and learning about new technologies and presented with ample amounts of time due to the lockdown - she took the opportunity to perfect her craft. COLBY – her latest invention, is the result of a conversation with some of her friends who expressed just how lonely the pandemic and the seemingly unending lockdown restrictions were making them feel. Carrying out her own research and with the help of the AI Club, Anudi created COLBY, an AI app
that aims to lessen loneliness via interactive communication with the user and the chatbot.

What got you into coding and AI at such a young age?
When I was 11, I used to do small electronic projects here and there and then I learnt Arduino and electronics basics from Igniter Space. I did further research on Arduino and then I started learning Python, which is a high-level general-purpose programming language and proceeded from the basics to advanced theories like object-oriented programming from online courses. I also learnt some basics about data science for AI.

Q What inspired you to create COLBY?
COLBY is actually a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic! I knew that because of the global social distancing and lockdowns in place, a lot of people were feeling lonely. So, I thought of creating a chatbot to cheer up those who feel lonely and alone and that’s how COLBY came about!

Q What kind of research and work went into making COLBY?
I did some research about loneliness to get some knowledge about the subject to make the chatbot more personal and relatable for the users. I also did a survey to find out more information about how a person feels when they’re lonely and their ideas for a chatbot to help people feel less lonely. I had to learn Kivy (GUI development platform for Python) in order to create a mobile package and I succeeded in including the Kivy materials for my Python programme of the chatbot.  Throughout the process, I was mentored by Dr Nisha Talagala, Dinusha Wegadapola and Amit Gupta from the AI Club to make the COLBY app.

Q So how does COLBY work?
COLBY actually stands for “Cure of Loneliness”. COLBY is a chatbot that was built to cheer people up and lessen loneliness in times of a pandemic. COLBY’s main function is to detect the mood of the User by using AI.  If the user feels lonely, suggestions and prompts are provided to help come out of that state of loneliness. I also included emergency helplines for Users who immediately need to connect with a counsellor. The User can proceed to interact with COLBY afterwards. COLBY is programmed to ask questions on the hobbies and ambitions of the User. The Chatbot also asks if the User is feeling lonely because of the pandemic and provides motivation by reminding them that the pandemic will be over soon.

Q We love that the app has helpline contact numbers and links to support groups! How important was it for you to include these contacts in the app?
If the User needs some immediate help, the User might not want to chat with a robot, so we have included the numbers given by Sri Lanka Sumithrayo and CCC line in a separate page on the app. COLBY also informs the User about the numbers and gives more facts to help the User get out of a lonely state of the mind.

Q How does AI work to detect loneliness and deliver the correct responses?

With the help of the AI club Navigator, I included artificial intelligence in my main code so COLBY can understand if
the User is feeling lonely or not from the given User input. COLBY acts according to the User’s feelings. The AI uses NLP to understand the User’s sentence in order to help COLBY communicate precisely.

Q What was it like to make COLBY?
I knew Python by a standard, so I thought of creating the app using Python but I didn’t know any framework to use to build apps with it. I found that Kivy was a multiplatform GUI library framework for Python so I did some research on Kivy and built my app’s layout with the help of Adobe Photoshop Artboards I created before coding it with Kivy. It was a challenge for me to learn a whole new thing since I haven’t worked with mobile apps before. I 3D modelled COLBY from a software and made COLBY more friendly for the user.

Q How has the feedback been to COLBY?
People said it was a good app, especially in this current pandemic. Sri Lanka Sumithrayo said that it was a great thing to include their service to people in an urgent need to talk to someone to get proper advice.

Q Do you have future plans for COLBY?
I like to improve my app to be user friendly in the Sinhala language and apply more natural language processing to avoid COLBY’s confusion when communicating. Since I have 3D modelled COLBY and animated him, I would like to add more animations into the app so Colby could entertain the User.

Q What did you enjoy about creating this?
I found it really interesting to build the layout of the app with Kivy design language and programme the app functions and include AI. I even learnt many debugging tools with android and IOS!

Q You are only 14 and it’s amazing that you’ve created such a cool and timely app! What’s your advice to anyone interested in AI and coding?
To learn a specific field you’re interested in, everything is there on the internet and we have the facilities with us to
learn something new. There are educational websites such as AIClub that teach you the basics of coding and AI to help start your programming journey.

Q What are your future plans?
When I’m older I would like to be a robotics engineer and create new AI intelligent machines.

For more information, visit http://www.corp.aiclub.world/


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