Total Communicator Solutions project boundary wellness app

Gamifying healthy behavior in the workplace

Earlier this month, 24 teams from industry, academia and government demonstrated their cyber-physical systems (CPS) projects at the SmartAmerica Expo. The projects showcased ways that CPS, or the Internet of Things, can improve transportation, emergency services, health care, security, energy conservation and manufacturing.

One of the projects, Project Boundary, aims to encourage the adoption of healthy behaviors in the workplace. The project consists of an indoor network of proximity beacons that send context-appropriate messages to users via their cellphones to encourage healthy behaviors, such as walking whenever possible.

Project Boundary was conceived by the Department of Health and Human Services’ IDEA Lab’s Innovator in Residence, Naganand Murty and Nayan Jain, a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow.  Working with innovators at HHS’s Federal Occupational Health office, they sought to develop a wellness solution to address the needs of their federal clients.  The initial pilot will take place at the HHS Humphrey Building, making it one of the first “gamified” workplaces in America.

Many of today’s corporate wellness programs deliver health portals and wellness services but haven’t been able to effectively engage workers, according to the Project Boundary website.

In contrast, Project Boundary wants to turn the adoption of healthy activities in the workplace into a game where users earn points for healthy behaviors. The system uses low energy Bluetooth sensing beacons to deliver contextually relevant messages to a user’s cellphone. For example, a beacon placed near an elevator could suggest a nearby user take the stairs instead. A second beacon in the stairwell would then give the user points for taking the stairs. 

“We hope to demonstrate how an everyday physical space might be transformed to become something more relevant to addressing the wellness needs of users, by engaging them where they are, as they go about their daily work, noted the Project Boundary website. “We want to re-envision the workplace (in conjunction with the user’s mobile phone) as an intelligent ecosystem that enables the user to maintain and adopt healthy behaviors.”

The beacons are small one-way transmitters that can last one to two years on a battery charge. It uses the Spark Compass platform integrated with Gimbal context aware technology and Apple’s iBeacon technology.

One a phone picks up a beacon signal, it checks the beacon ID against an internal database of beacon IDs mapped against physical locations and estimates how close it is to that particular beacon.  Once the beacon infrastructure is in place, the system could use intelligent computing to tailor its interaction with the user.

“Eventually, we hope to layer in some means to enable users to compete — against themselves, or against a peer group — since social influence and support has been shown to have a significant impact on enabling behavior change,” said the site.

Other health and safety projects showcased at the SmartAmerica Challenge demonstration include: technology to improve healthcare from the home to the hospital and back to the home, a safety system for the elderly living on their own and automobile systems for safer driving.

Cyber physical systems, otherwise known as the Internet of Things technology, is currently in use in a variety of areas, including manufacturing, transportation, healthcare and consumer appliances.

In April, market research firm Gartner identified The Internet of Things as a top 10 technology trend and described how government IT managers could  apply them to their own strategic innovation efforts . 

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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