UbiGreen Tracks Good Transportation Choices

Researchers at the University of Washington and Intel have created two new cell phone applications, dubbed UbiFit and UbiGreen, to automatically track workouts and green transportation. The programs 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 behavior for the better, said Sunny Consolvo, a recently graduated UW Information School doctoral student and one of UbiFit's creators.

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. The programs 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 localized motion at your waist will be different if you're walking, jogging, or sitting in a car.

The design of UbiGreen was inspired by UbiFit, Landay said. The project was presented Nov. 18 at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change conference in Sacramento, Calif. 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.

UbiFit and UbiGreen could be released to the public within the next year or two, Landay said, especially as phones with built-in accelerometers become more common.

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