Otter – an app to fight loneliness



This article first appeared in El Pais newspaper in Uruguay. You can read the original in Spanish here (registration required), or a translation in English below:

Students and graduates from Universidad ORT Uruguay have devised an app to help generate friendships


A group of students and graduates from Universidad ORT Uruguay are developing a mobile phone app aiming at fighting loneliness: it is not a tool to find a partner, but it is rather based on friendship relationships. The original idea for the Otter app was a result of the winning entry of the ORT | UN75 Project contest.

United Nations Uruguay together with ORT’s Faculty of Communication & Design and ORT’s Faculty of Engineering invited graduates and advanced students to participate in this contest in order to promote the development of creative and innovative proposals to improve the quality of life of the country, from the global perspective of the United Nations in the framework of its 75th anniversary and its slogan “Forging our future together”.

The fact that in Uruguay 64% of the population suffers or has suffered from some degree of depression was the initial trigger for thinking about the initiative that resulted in the Otter app. In 2019, the suicide rate reached 2002 levels.  

“When loneliness is enforced, it becomes a problem,” said Zálah Rodríguez Acosta, technician in Audiovisual Production at Universidad ORT Uruguay and member of the winning team. Other members include Agustín Marinucci, technician in Audiovisual Production; Nicolás Guala, Bachelor of Design, Art and Technology student; and Paula Pizzano, Marketing Analyst student.

How to combat this reality? By accepting the problem. Thus, the team devised this app which seeks to promote bonds between people and mitigate the impact of loneliness.

When the contest’s results were announced on September 30, the Otter creators were unveiled as the winners. In total, a dozen ORT students and graduates worked together designing projects aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The app is in an initial phase of development, Marinucci told El País, and they estimate it will be ready in 2021. The team is currently in the pre-incubation process of the project, validating objectives. “I had the idea for an app like this for a while,” Marinucci said.

The app tackles loneliness

And he added: “My mother is a psychologist and has always transmitted to me the idea that there are many people who feel lonely and many who cannot consolidate new ties, who find it difficult to relate to others or who do not have other people with whom to be directly involved, to go out and share their favorite activities.

“So I came up with this idea, which is quite different from applications that already exist”, such as Tinder. In addition to connecting people and their profiles like the well-known dating app, Otter plans to connect them through activities.

The idea is for the user to register and create a profile, entering the interests they have. “We match for the interests and common activities that people have,” said Marinucci.

Led by Daniela Golby, MSc in Strategic Design and Management, and assisted by Pablo Álvarez, Graduates Coordinator at the School of Communication, the professionals worked using the Design Thinking methodology, a creative process that serves to solve complex problems and helps generate completely new ideas.