Living healthier with a smartphone
Dieter De Mesmaeker and Jonathan Provo, two GROUP T Electronics-ICT engineering students, developed a smartphone app as part of their master’s thesis. The app motivates and guides its users to pursue a healthier life style. Dr. Vero Vanden Abeele, researcher in GROUP T’s e-Media Lab, acted as supervisor while Wouter Goris of the company Ready2improve commercialized the app.
Wouter Goris, Dieter De Mesmaeker, Jonathan Provo and Dr. Vero Vanden Abeele. “The Improver app is part of the European research consortium SIXPAC of which the e-Media Lab is also part”, Vero says. “SIXPAC stands for Social Interaction to eXcite Physical ACtivity, a project that examines the potential role of social media in stimulating various forms of physical exercise. Dieter and Jonathan’s app therefore fits in perfectly with the Health Engineering research cluster with which GROUP T seeks to distinguish itself. The e-Media Lab brings together game designers, engineers as well as social scientists to develop interactive ITC applications that promote comfort and welfare. In most cases this assumes a behavioral change. Technology must stimulate and support people in this process so that they remain motivated.”
Ready2improve, Wouter Goris’s company, commissioned the development of the app. “We are a coaching company that sets people on their way and guides them to achieve a healthier lifestyle”, Wouter explains.
“Of course, that’s easier said than done. How do you go about that and, moreover, once started, how do you keep it up? This gave us the idea to develop a user-friendly app together with GROUP T and the Leuven-based ICT company Zenjoy that supports people on their way to a healthier lifestyle. By a smart combination of data registration, game elements and by sharing results with social networks, it becomes a fun activity and the motivation stays high. Thanks to the work of Dieter and Jonathan we have achieved our objective.”
As to the potential of the Improver app Dieter says the following: “With our application it is possible to monitor and record exercise and nutrition as well as mood and weight. Graphs and a general health score provide clear feedback of your progress. It is also possible to set goals that allow you to adopt healthier habits step by step.”
“Our app is based on self-determination”, Jonathan continues. “You decide yourself what you want and what you do. You learn from the app’s direct feedback and, by sharing the results via the social networks, your immediate environment is also involved in the process, which is beneficial to commitment and motivation.”
“First and foremost, it must be fun and stay fun”, Dieter believes. “The app offers more than forty goals or challenges for which you can be rewarded. Some goals are easy, others require more time or effort. Beginners are of course rewarded more readily but experienced users must also continue to enjoy themselves. That’s why we built in a number of hidden goals. For competitively inclined improvers, there is a leaderboard available that displays the health score of all users and that rewards the best improvers. All your personal goals can be shared with friends and family.”
The improver app has now been introduced into the market and is available in the iTunes App Store. Price: 89 eurocent for unlimited use. Ready2improve, for one, sees a bright future in it. “This application allows us to considerably extend our activities and service and to evolve into a complete online coaching package”, Wouter confirms. “Also, online learning paths on stress resistance, healthy nutrition, exercise and quitting smoking are possible. We are considering including sensors that detect movement as well as bio signals such as heart rate and blood pressure that can subsequently be sent to a coach. In the long run, we want to develop an emotion algorithm that enables us to measure motivation.”
GROUP T’s e-Media Lab is completely onboard with this trend: “The use of ICT applications to steer the behavior of people is definitely on the way up”, according to Vero. “Together with our partners IME,Zenjoy and Ready2improve we are setting up projects on ‘the quantified self’. By giving people greater insight into their behavior they will be inclined sooner to break with their sedentary and inactive lifestyles and to effectively evolve to more dynamic and healthy lifestyles.”
Software and consultancy
And what about the two students? They are now engineers and quite busy. Jonathan started at Zenjoy as a software engineer. He develops web platforms, complex websites, mobile e-learning applications and organizes custom training programs for companies.
Dieter is studying General Management at the Vlerick Business School with the intention of becoming an IT and management consultant and starting his own consultancy company in the long run. One thing is for sure: the Improver app project is an important stepping stone to a promising career for both students.
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