For Health Hack Day a week or so ago, we entered with a project aimed at the people who are not that interested in keeping track of their data streams and sensors. In our research, we found that there is a group of users who are not excited by new gadgets and the prospects of strapping new types of tech to their bodies. These people are simply not interested in instant feedback via facebook while on their morning run, or similar proposals made by the current “quantified self” trend.

We looked into different things that make people healthier, and explored different types of motivations and ways of encouraging behavioural change. We decided we didn’t want to make another stats-tracking website, and considered artefacts in the home, such as piggy banks with their tactility when shaken, glanceable interfaces and toys.

We stated a few goals, distancing ourselves from the measure-everything crowd, who will figure out a way to stay healthy, with sensors or not. A recent report in the Lancet indicates that walking for 15 minutes per day, or 90 minutes per week greatly reduces cancer risk and keeps you alive for an extra three years. We thought this would be a brilliant goal to try and achieve.

By targeting the family, and especially kids, we wanted to establish healthy habits early on, in a sustainable way. By sustainable, we mean habits that don’t require you to adhere to technology that may feel outdated, and experiences that are more about the experiences themselves than their data layer or associated meta-data. Our target group are not that bothered with badges or other virtual achievement indicators, or inclined to share their progress in virtual social networks. They are not really motivated by competition, so we were looking for a solution that would encourage sharing of an experience rather than making the experience into a struggle.

We built Zeebo on our favourite hardware platform, the Arduino. Adding a few components, we made Zeebo come alive when you walk past him, and wag his tail and make some noise. When you take him outside, you press a little button in his ear which starts a timer and deactivates the motion sensor. When you have walked a little further than you walked yesterday, he makes some happy noises to let you know that you’re doing well. A simple mechanism to trigger a simple, but potentially powerful behaviour.

Here is our presentation if you would like to see it.

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