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Your mobile will help you maintain your workout routine


Washington : Your mobile phone will help you maintain your exercise routine and keep the pounds off over winter months.

Washington University researchers and Intel have created two new cell phone applications, dubbed UbiFit and UbiGreen, to automatically track workouts and green transportation.

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.

The programmes display motivational pictures on the phone’s background screen that change the more the user works out or uses eco-friendly means of transportation.

The applications are designed to change people’s behaviour for the better, said Sunny Consolvo, a recently graduated WU Information School doctoral student and one of UbiFit’s creators.

UbiFit and UbiGreen are part of a larger project at the WU to use mobile computing in everyday activities and long-term goals such as fitness, said project leader James Landay, WU computer science and engineering associate professor.

“You can’t get fit in a short period of time in one place,” he said. “It happens long-term, in many different places and ways.”

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, according to WU release.

The programmes could run on phones with built-in accelerometers, such as the iPhone and the new Android G1, with no need for external equipment, Landay said. UbiGreen also relies on changing cell phone tower signals to determine whether a person is taking a trip.

The sensing device determines what the user is doing based on how it gets jiggled around, Landay said — the localised 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. Users can also enter workout information 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,” Consolvo said.