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bActive - An Android App to Make You More Active

The Today Screen in bActive

Could a smartphone improve your health? Computers are normally linked to people being inactive, hunched over a screen all day long. Smartphones are actually just small computers, but because you use them on the move, maybe they can keep you on the move too?

A team from Swansea and Kingston Universities have developed an app for Android smart phones called bActive that intends to do just that. The multidisciplinary team, funded by the EPSRC Digital Economy programme, brings together computer scientists from Swansea (Parisa Eslambolchilar and Simon Walton) with social scientists at Kingston Business School (Ruth Rettie, Kevin Burchell and Tim Harries). Forget the gym though, as their app aims to help people be more active in everyday life. Most phones now include accelerometers - essentially just a mini-seismograph like the ones used to measure earthquakes but that keeps track of the movement of the phone. Using the accelerometer inside your phone bActive can measure your physical activity throughout the day and estimate the number of steps you have taken by looking at the 'spikes' in the accelerometer readings caused by your feet hitting the ground. From these step counts, it can also estimate the number of calories you've burned and also the distance you've travelled.

Knowing your own 'step count' for the day is useful information. But what about your friends - are they beating your step count? You shouldn't let them! bActive can provide this information too. If a group of friends are using the application on their own phones, then bActive allows them all to view not only their own step counts, but also the average step count within the group. In the picture, the numbers in white show the group's average step counts, calories burned and distance travelled. The numbers in green show this person's own step count, the calories they have burned, and the distance travelled. They must be doing quite a lot of exercise as they are well above the average activity level of the whole group.

bActive gets the step counts of other people by using the Android phone to connect to a central database of the person's step counts at Swansea University's Department of Computer Science. Since the database knows everybody's step counts, it can also compute the daily average (the mean) of them and send that back too.

Viewing this week's step counts

bActive is designed to run on your phone all the time. It can record step counts over weeks and weeks and provides an easy way to look at your previous step counts using a graph. It also tells you whether you have historically been below or above the average of the group.

Even when you make a resolution to change your lifestyle and get fitter it can be hard on your own. For some people the extra fun, not to mention social pressure from doing things with friends makes it easier to keep going. For others a little bit of competition helps. The bActive app draws on both to help people become more active. Try it - but if you do don't forget to take your phone with you when you go for that run. It would be such a shame to put in all that effort but then lose all the steps from your bActive count!