Encourages healthier lifestyle by showing consequences of an unhealthy one
NEW YORK; May 16, 2006 – Accenture today unveiled an experimental “mirror” that shows unhealthy eaters what they could look like in the future if they fail to improve their diets.
The device – known as the Persuasive Mirror – stems from an Accenture research initiative aimed at developing technologies that encourage people to maintain healthy lifestyles in order to avoid obesity and related health problems. Plans call for it to be used in upcoming research studies at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
“We see great potential in using the technology available via the Persuasive Mirror not only to assess body image but also to determine how body image might be used to affect positive behavioral change,” said Jeannie Huang, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in residence at UCSD.
Dr. Huang is also a member of PACE (www.paceproject.org), a multidisciplinary research consortium of more than 40 professionals that conducts a broad array of research aimed at developing tools to help health professionals help their patients make and sustain healthy changes in physical activity, diet and other lifestyle behaviors.
The mirror was developed at Accenture Technology Labs in Sophia Antipolis, France, where researchers strive to embed technologies into ordinary household items, thereby allowing users to gain valuable health information just by going about their daily activities.
Accordingly, the prototype was built to look like a standard bathroom mirror. Operation requires that users do nothing more than look at their “reflections.” But the operational simplicity belies the device’s complex technology.
The “mirror” uses two cameras placed on the sides of a flat-panel display and combines video streams from both cameras to obtain a realistic replication of a mirror reflection. Advanced image processing and proprietary software are used to visually enhance the person’s reflection.
Couch Potatoes Beware
The mirror is fed information from webcams and sensing devices placed around the house, including images of everyday activities. For example, the monitoring system can be configured to spot visits to the refrigerator, treadmill usage, or time spent on the couch.
Software analyzes the data to determine behavior – be it healthy or unhealthy – and how behavior, including overeating, will influence future appearance, including obesity. As a result, a sedentary person, for example, can see his face growing fat before his eyes.
The Persuasive Mirror can also be configured to accept other health-related data. For instance, it can show the consequences of too much time spend in the sun, or calculate the benefits of data provided by devices such as a pedometer worn during a brisk walk or run. Future iterations will also calculate the effects of other unhealthy behaviors such as drinking, smoking or drug use.
“One of the key solutions experts identify for solving the growing problems caused by poor diet, including obesity, inactivity and smoking is a change in personal habits,” said Martin Illsley, director of the Sophia Antipolis facility, one of three research labs operated by Accenture. “This led us to think about using technology as a persuasion tool, specifically how technology can be used to create the kind of motivation and personal awareness that will change unwanted behaviors.”
This is known as the science of captology, defined as the study of computers as persuasive technologies. It includes the design, research and analysis of interactive computing products created for the purpose of changing people’s attitudes or behaviors.
Illsley and his team concluded that for any technology dealing with diet and exercise habits to be persuasive, it needed to be highly visual. They realized that a mirror that projects the image of how the individual’s face and body will look in the future if habits are poor – or, conversely, improve – could best drive home the point.
“We monitor the individual’s habits in terms of diet and exercise and whether or not they smoke or spend time in the sun. And by focusing on the face and body, visually project how he or she will look in the near future,” said Illsley. “The image can punish them if they have not taken good care of themselves, or can reward them if they are following healthy diet plans and have begun to lose weight.”
Intelligent Home Services
The mirror fits into Accenture Technology Labs initiative called Intelligent Home Services that merges sensor technologies and artificial intelligence to enable a new class of assistive technologies. It makes use of cameras to track activity and artificial intelligence techniques to learn habits automatically so that deviations can be spotted.
Previous prototypes have demonstrated how emerging technologies in the home can bring prolonged independence to the elderly, create a channel for new services and help businesses and governments address the challenge of the aging population.
All of the prototypes offer practical benefits to business. In the case of the mirror, which took 18 months to build, Illsley sees potential benefits for companies in such industries as pharmaceuticals, health care services and insurance.
“While applications exist for entering a photo of an individual and seeing how he or she is expected to look years later, such as those used to find missing children, this concept is completely different. We are not aware of another company or research firm that has done anything similar,” said Illsley.
Illsley cautions that input and monitoring from medical experts is essential. “That’s one reason we’re so excited about working UCSD. By collaborating with them, we can take this prototype to the next stage and ensure that further development takes place with medical expertise. This will ensure the technologies we have identified are used to help people improve their lifestyle in the best way possible.”
Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Committed to delivering innovation, Accenture collaborates with its clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. With deep industry and business process expertise, broad global resources and a proven track record, Accenture can mobilize the right people, skills and technologies to help clients improve their performance. With more than 129,000 people in 48 countries, the company generated net revenues of US$15.55 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2005. Its home page is www.accenture.com.