Washington, Nov 20 : Fearing you won't be able to keep track of your workout sessions during the holiday season? Well, in that case, scrap all your worries, for cell phone software has been developed that can help people maintain their exercise routine and keep the pounds off over winter months.
Researchers at the University of Washington and Intel have created two new cell phone applications, dubbed UbiFit and UbiGreen, which can track workouts and green transportation.
And the interesting part of using the programs is that they display motivational pictures on the phone's background screen that change the more the user works out or uses eco-friendly means of transportation.
Sunny Consolvo, a recently graduated UW Information School doctoral student and one of UbiFit's creators said that the applications are designed to change people's behavior for the better.
The researchers observed that in a three-month field experiment, people using UbiFit with the background display kept up their workout routines over the winter holidays, a period when people typically slack off on exercise, while people without the display let their regimen slide.
According to project leader James Landay, UW computer science and engineering associate professor, UbiFit and UbiGreen are part of a larger project at the UW to use mobile computing in everyday activities and long-term goals such as fitness.
"You can't get fit in a short period of time in one place. It happens long-term, in many different places and ways," he said.
Current versions of UbiFit and UbiGreen use an external sensing device (the Intel Mobile Sensing Platform) clipped to the user's waist. The device includes an accelerometer to sense the user's movement.
Landay said that the programs could run on phones with built-in accelerometers, such as the iPhone and the new Android G1, and that too without any need for external equipment.
UbiGreen also relies on changing cell phone tower signals to determine whether a person is taking a trip.
Landay said that the sensing device determines what the user is doing based on how it gets jiggled around, as the localized motion at your waist will be different if you're walking, jogging, or sitting in a car.
The sensing device sends signals three times per second via Bluetooth to the cell phone, where the application averages these rapid signals and translates them into, for example, a 20-minute jog or a drive to work.
UbiFit displays an empty lawn at the beginning of the week, and flowers grow as the user works out during the week. Different kinds of workouts yield different coloured flowers. Users set weekly workout goals and are rewarded with a butterfly when the goal is met. In fact, workout information can also be entered manually if the sensor made a mistake, they forgot to wear it, or they did an activity that the sensor does not detect.
"The background display was definitely one of the biggest wins of our study," said Consolvo, who is a researcher at Intel Research Seattle.
Landay said that UbiFit inspired the design of UbiGreen.
UbiGreen automatically logs a trip that involves walking, running or biking using accelerometer data, and uses cell phone tower signals to determine if someone is riding in a vehicle.
A quick survey pops up at the end of the trip and the user chooses car, carpool, bus or train. Eventually, the application could be programmed to glean almost all this information just from the accelerometer, Landay said, because the movements of cars, buses and trains are very different from each other.
UbiGreen displays a tree on the cell phone's background that grows leaves, flowers, then fruit as the user makes green choices. Icons light up when a choice saves money, incorporates exercise, or allows the user to multi-task. A green bar and number also display how many pounds of carbon dioxide each trip saves compared to a car ride.
Researchers believe that UbiFit and UbiGreen could be released to the public within the next year or two, especially as phones with built-in accelerometers become more common.
The project was presented recently at the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change conference in Sacramento, Calif.