UT-Austin researchers building digital platform to help young adults manage asthma

Sowmya Sridhar, General News Reporter

UT researchers are working on a digital platform called Camp Cura to help young adults manage their asthma through connecting with a virtual friend.

Camp Cura will enhance the independence of young adults with asthma, said Zach Harper, a graduate student in the advertising master’s program and experience designer for Camp Cura. The prototype is projected to be finished by the end of the semester and will later be tested with young adults.  

Erin Reilly, founding director of the Texas Immersive Institute, said she and her team wanted to use AI in creative ways beyond just service bots. 

“Using GPT3, which is an AI modeling platform, we wanted to really explore … how we can socially and emotionally connect between the user and a character,” said Reilly, a professor of practice in the Moody College of Communication.  

Reilly’s team partnered with Hyekyun Rhee, a professor in the School of Nursing and an expert in young adults with asthma, to develop Camp Cura. Reilly said Rhee’s research demonstrated that young adults ages 16-25 face difficulties managing their asthma when living on their own for the first time. 

Though the prototype is focused on asthma management, the team plans to expand Camp Cura to help young adults manage a variety of chronic diseases, Reilly said. 

The team built a camp environment to emulate nonprofits and camps that help children understand how to manage their chronic disease. 

“Often at age 18, (young adults) age out of the chronic disease camps for children,” Reilly said. “We thought that the camp environment for kids with chronic diseases would be something familiar.”

The platform features a virtual friend: a mushroom called Moose who also has asthma and is the user’s bunkmate. Conversations between Moose and users happen through messaging to adapt to an on-the-go lifestyle that benefits young adults. 

Reilly said the storyline of the game is a metaphor for asthma management. 

“Just like you have to take care of your body and health with asthma every day, the camp is in disarray and Moose is concerned that it might shut down if they don’t clean up and help take care of the camp. So we’re using that kind of metaphor of taking care of something, keeping it clean, keeping an eye out for what’s going on at the camp, same as monitoring your triggers,” Reilly said. 

Camp Cura offers 16 camp activities as minigames for users to play to reinforce learning on identifying and managing asthma. Before the minigame, Moose asks the user questions related to if they have done their morning or evening check-in. 

“Triggers, symptoms and (management) … those are the three key things that young adults need to communicate or manage when dealing with a chronic disease,” Reilly said. 

Thus, the morning check-in asks users if they have their inhaler on hand and if they’ve had asthma attacks while sleeping, Reilly said. 

Harper said he hopes Camp Cura will be an engaging and educational platform for young adults. 

“It’s a play on education in a light-hearted and fun way, so maybe it will encourage these users to not necessarily be turned off of the idea of engaging with education platforms,” Harper said.