GiantOtter receives NSF small business R&D grant to build anti-bullying game with artificial intelligence

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jan. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ — Startup venture Giant Otter Technologies (www.giantotter.com) announced today that it has been awarded a highly selective Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation.  The six-month $150,000 grant will be used to develop SchoolLife, a 3D virtual school where players play the roles of a bullying victim and bystander, interact with characters controlled by artificial intelligence, and learn about their own social and emotional skills.

According to GiantOtter co-founders, Geoff Marietta and Jeff Orkin, the concept for SchoolLife was conceived after the two serendipitously met for coffee in Harvard Square.  Marietta was studying how virtual worlds could facilitate learning and improve relationships at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  At the MIT Media Lab, Orkin had developed a crowdsourced artificial intelligence technology for virtual worlds for his PhD.  With support from Harvard professor Hunter Gehlbach, Marietta and Orkin combined their research to build a novel technological solution to solve a big social problem – bullying. 

“Bullying is one of the greatest threats to children’s health in the developed world,” according to Marietta, who was a former special education teacher.  Nearly one in three students is a bully victim every school year, and four out of five children will report being bullied before entering high school.  Marietta and Orkin also point out that the negative effects of bullying persist well into adulthood, costing society up to $25 billion per year.

SchoolLife innovates by integrating advances in artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and data mining, producing psychologically vivid, safely-controlled interactions that mimic the complexities of actual human interaction.  According to Orkin, “Students can interact with the virtual characters as they would with another human, and in doing so, generate measurable data about who they are, and how they behave socially.”   

According to the founders, SchoolLife will be available to schools for free and can be played on any computer or mobile device with internet access.  Schools interested in SchoolLife can find more information at www.giantotter.com, or contact Marietta at [email protected].

The complete National Science Foundation SBIR grant abstract is available at:  http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1345495

About Giant Otter Technologies

Giant Otter Technologies (www.giantotter.com) was formed by two Jeffs in 2013 with a vision of building artificial intelligence for a better world.  It builds authentic 3D simulations that assess personality traits, empathy, and communication skills, while users interact with characters that mimic human behavior in everyday social situations.  GiantOtter is a Harvard I-Lab Resident, MassChallenge Finalist, and was a winner at both the Harvard Education Innovation Contest and the MIT iGame Entrepreneurial Competition.  The company’s products have been featured in New Scientist, The Boston Herald and on New England Cable News (NECN).

Media Contact: Geoff Marietta, Giant Otter Technologies, inc., 1-617-777-3364, [email protected]

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SOURCE Giant Otter Technologies, inc.

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