USP students create robot that brings university students together in the midst of the pandemic

“Nurturing our sociability is a healthy way to maintain mental health.” The wise phrase was written by one of the students consulted during the development phase of Approxima bot , a tool created to strengthen friendship and bonds between university students who have common interests. Nicknamed the “Friendship Tinder”, Approxima is an interactive robot that works as a small application within Telegram, one of the main alternatives to WhatsApp.

The role of this robot or bot – short for the English term robot – is to identify students who have common interests and introduce them to each other. Therefore, one of the first steps to register with Approxima is to define your preferences. Then, the bot suggests potential friends for each student, according to those preferences.

Then, luck is cast: users are completely free to decide if they want to follow the suggestions. If the students believe that the friendship has a future, we can say that it “matched”, that is, a pair was formed, similar to what happens in the famous relationship app Tinder, and the pair can start a chat. The difference is that, at Approxima , the goal is not to find a romantic partner, but someone with whom we can exchange ideas and share experiences, a friendship. There is nothing more suitable, for this, than starting to relate to someone who has common interests with you, that is, who enjoys the same games, movies, series and music, for example.

Result: about 100 people have already registered with Approxima . And if you’re a college student and want to make new friends, just go to https://t.me/approxima_bot . “Every new user in the bot should also go to https://t.me/approxima_avisos , our channel for notices about updates, new features and feedbacks. This is our bridge of contact with users ”, explains Vitor Santana Cordeiro, who is studying Computer Science and is part of the Approxima development team .

Comprised of students from USP’s Institute of Mathematical and Computer Sciences (ICMC), in São Carlos, the team began work on creating the tool shortly after the start of the new coronavirus pandemic in Brazil, which forced the cancellation of face-to-face classes, keeping college students away from their friends and isolated. “Concerned about this situation, the ICMC management contacted our Psychopedagogical Support Group (GAPsi) and suggested that we think about alternatives to reduce student isolation and prevent mental health problems ”, reveals Professor Simone Souza, coordinator of GAPsi. This group is formed by teachers, students and employees and has the support of interns from the psychology area, with the purpose of informing and promoting actions and reflections on psychosocial health and well-being.

After the demand was launched, one of the group’s participants, Professor Sarita Bruschi, suggested that a solution be created in partnership with the extension group USPCodeLab Sanca , of which she is the coordinator. Then, the ICMC student team started the project in conjunction with GAPsi. To identify the needs of students in quarantine, the first step was to conduct research with university students from different institutions.

Simone Souza, coordinator of the Psychopedagogical Support Group at ICMC USP – Photo: Disclosure / ICMC USP
“I loved the project! As soon as I arrived in São Carlos, I already thought it would be cool if there was an application or other means that would help people with common interests to make friends. During the pandemic, I felt deprived of socializing and meeting new people, so I think the project would help me and other people who feel that way too. I give as much support as I can, ”wrote one of the students who joined the ICMC this year on the online survey form.

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