Thomas Claburn
January 6, 2009

The U.S. Department of Defense is looking to develop virtual parents to comfort children when moms and dads on active duty aren’t available to talk.

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In a solicitation for proposals posted on the department’s Small Business Innovation Research Web site, the military says it’s seeking to “develop a highly interactive PC- or Web-based application to allow family members to verbally interact with ‘virtual’ renditions of deployed Service Members.”

“The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, everyday topics,” the solicitation says. “For instance, a child may get a response from saying, ‘I love you,’ or ‘I miss you,’ or ‘Good night mommy/daddy.’ This is a technologically challenging application because it relies on the ability to have convincing voice-recognition, artificial intelligence, and the ability to easily and inexpensively develop a customized application tailored to a specific parent.”

While Skype or similar technologies might seem like a more cost-effective and immediately available solution, Defense rejects that possibility, noting in a Q&A posted below the solicitation that the purpose of the project is to help children cope with the absence of a parent when Internet and phone communication are not an option.

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