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Innovative Research on Activity Trackers Receives International Distinction

Early Bird Project: “Studying the Long-term Acceptance of Personal Health Informatics Tools”
Innovative Research on Activity Trackers Receives International Award
A paper on activity trackers written by the research team of the Early Bird Project “Studying the Long-term Acceptance of Personal Health Informatics Tools”, carried out in the scope of the CMU Portugal Program, has received an Honorable Mention at the 2015 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2015).

Evangelos Karapanos (PI) and Rúben Gouveia, researchers from the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (M-ITI), and Marc Hassenzahl, from the Folkwang University of Arts (Germany), were the authors of the distinguished paper entitled “How Do We Engage With Activity Trackers? A Longitudinal Study of Habito.” The paper analyses users’ attitudes towards personal tracking applications. Three other papers of this team were also presented at the same conference, held in September in Osaka, Japan.

Evangelos Karapanos Jodi Forlizzi The PI’s of the Early Bird Project, Evangelos Karapanos (M-ITI) and Jodi Forlizzi (CMU), explain the main findings of the study and its impact in the overall objective of the project.

CMU Portugal: The paper “How Do We Engage With Activity Trackers? A Longitudinal Study of Habito” received an Honorable Mention Award for Best Paper at the Ubicomp Conference. What are the main findings of the paper?

Evangelos Karapanos (EK) and Jodi Forlizzi (JF): This paper looks at what happens when physical activity trackers are deployed in the ‘real world’. These devices measure one’s physical activity and provide feedback with the goal of motivating individuals to walk or exercise more. Our study showed that things often don’t go as expected by the tracker designers. We found that that people rarely look back at their past performance data. Instead, they access the tracker in brief sessions, to check how much they have walked so far without any further interaction. Additionally, most activity trackers feature ‘goal setting’ abilities – users set their own activity goals and feedback is provided as to how far they are from accomplishing it. Our study found that only 30% of users set their own goal and 80% of those never update the goal again. Also, we found that current physical activity trackers work only for people that have the motivation to change their behaviors but have no concrete plans on how to do it. We need to think how trackers can instill initial motivation for behavior change rather than merely support the process of it.

CMU Portugal: How is this research different from other studies on activity trackers?

EK & JF: We wanted to understand how people adopt, engage with and discontinue from using activity trackers in the real world. A recent survey found that a third of tracker owners discard them within 6 months, which motivated us for this paper. The difference is that the majority of early studies were limited in their own ways: participants were pre-selected to ensure they had the motivation to increase their physical activity in the first place, they knew they were testing a research prototype and most studies covered only a limited timespan. As such, our real-world experiences with trackers contradicted the results of early findings on the topic.

EBP_PHI Tools_Team EBP_PHI Tools_Presentation@UbiComp
From left to right: Fabio Pereira, Tiago Ornelas, Evangelos Karapanos, Ana Caraban, Ruben Gouveia and Vitor Teixeira. Ruben Gouveia presents the paper at UbiComp.

CMU Portugal: How is this paper related to the overall goals of the Early Bird Project?

EK & JF: This was a preliminary study, partially conducted before the start of the project but it lies at the core of the project’s objectives and was inspired during the writing of the project’s proposal. This first study revealed the complexities of activity tracking in everyday life, such as users lacking the motivation to set goals, interacting very briefly with the tracker and showing no interest in their own historical data. In a second study (currently under review), we studied the factors that made the adoption of the tracker successful for some users but not for others. These findings inspired the design ideas for new kinds of trackers, that our research team of Masters in Engineering Informatics, led by Ana Caraban, are working on. Prototypes for smartphones and smart watches have been developed, which will be deployed in user studies over the coming months.

CMU Portugal: How many members, in Portugal and at CMU, does your EBP research team include?

EK & JF: The team in Portugal consists of six members: Evangelos Karapanos, Ana Caraban, Ruben Gouveia and three graduate students, Fabio Perreira, Tiago Ornelas, Vitor Teixeira. From Carnegie Mellon University, we have Jodi Forlizzi and Rebecca Gulotta, of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

October, 2015

Early Bird Projects
Early Bird Projects are designed to assist small teams of researchers from Portuguese institutions, CMU, and industry partners, to jumpstart high-impact potential activities of strategic relevance for the Program. more