Robert Wood Johnson Foundation names winners of $50,000 AI, opioid challenges

Buoy Health’s chatbot for patient health education and Sober Grid's social addiction support platform each received top honors after pitching their platforms live at Health 2.0.
By Dave Muoio
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The three finalists of the RWJF's AI Challenge pose together on stage at Health 2.0

The victors of two Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) pitch competitions were recently announced following a live judging session held at Health 2.0 in Santa Clara, California. There, judges named Buoy Health’s chatbot for patient health education the winner of RWJF’s AI Challenge, while social addiction support platform Sober Grid claimed first prize in the organization’s Opioid Challenge.

The contests asked their competitors to submit health-focused technologies incorporating AI or addressing substance misuse. Each began early in the year, and after multiple elimination rounds culminated with the final three presenting a final pitch at the conference for a $50,000 grand prize. The competition’s judges rewarded entrants whose offerings were deemed to have the most impact, potential for adoption, creativity, scalability, and design intuitiveness.

In his pitch, CEO Dr. Andrew Le pitched Buoy Health’s text-based machine learning platform as a more helpful alternative for consumers prone to Googling their symptoms. While the system doesn’t offer a hard diagnosis, Buoy references a database of thousands of clinical encounters to give users a rough idea of what they may be experiencing and whether or not they may want to seek additional care.

The company has been gaining traction prior to this win, with a $6.7 million round in 2017 and multiple new partnerships.

“The interview is dynamic and always adjusting to the questions you are answering. It’s a severe departure from symptom checkers that use very simple decision trees,” Le explained during his pitch. “After about two or three minutes we narrow the diagnoses down to three reasons for and against that match … and then ultimately, with our partners — employers, payers, and providers — show exactly what services exist for that particular triage.”

Sober Grid, winner of the opioid challenge, is a mobile app platform that allows those with ongoing or prior substance addiction to access a community of peers for support. However, the platform goes beyond just a simple social network by including additional features to help users manage their addiction. These include a geolocation-based treatment matching tool, AI-controlled notifications to friends or family members if relapse risk is identified, and automated outreach efforts from certified peer coaches.

“We are in the midst of an epidemic in the US. We are losing a generation to this,” Chris Pesce, chief operating officer at Sober Grid, said during his pitch. “Effective treatment exists — treatments such as medication-assisted treatment and social and behavior interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and narcotics anonymous … but there are challenges to connecting individuals to care due to barriers such as lack of access, transportation, childcare, cost, and stigma that prevent individuals from reaching out for help. We built Sober Grid to address these challenges.”

Second place winners for the two challenge — to whom a $15,000 prize was awarded — were INF Robotics’ RUDY, an AI-backed assistive robot marketed to home care agencies, and Data Cubed’s ResQ, a gamified data collection app that warns support networks when it identifies signs of potential relapse among users. Earning the third place, $10,000 prizes was Patient Price, a service that helps patients better seek affordable and high-quality care using artificial intelligence, and Hashtag’s connected wristband that continually detects for overdoses using blood oxygen level sensors.

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