Research - 05.01.2015 - 00:00 

Personal trainer in your pocket

At the beginning of the year, resolutions are back in vogue again. The open software platform is intended to help mould people’s behaviour in a positive fashion in the long term and to help them attain their objectives. The platform is also suitable for automated digital therapies.<br/>


6 January 2015. The platform was developed at the Health-IS Lab of the Institute of Technology Management (ITEM‐HSG). The laboratory is a joint initiative of the University of St.Gallen (HSG) and ETH Zurich under the direction of Prof. Dr. Elgar Fleisch. Together with PD Dr. Severin Haug from the Swiss Institute of Addiction and Health Research, the Health-IS Lab has now published the MobileCoach as an open-source project.

MobileCoach stimulates and advises

The researchers pursued several goals at once when they developed the platform: “We wanted to enable behaviour-oriented interventions which can easily be scaled and automated, can be used en route and can be further developed by scientists and service providers as an open-source software,” says Tobias Kowatsch, project leader at the Health-IS Lab. After about a year, an initial version of the platform is now available for further development and use. “At present, the MobileCoach is already being used in connection with two intervention studies in the field of addiction,” says Kowatsch.

The MobileCoach is intended to provide interactive services aiming to support behaviour positively in the long term. No matter whether it is an objective in sports or health – the MobileCoach stimulates and advises. It is simple to use: participants register online and provide information about their individual goals and present behaviour. A simple answer/question dialogue through mobile communication services such as SMS regularly ascertains behaviour. On the basis of their personal information and the timeframe of their choice, participants receive messages and tips about how they can change their behaviour in the long term.

Clever technology, simple operation

The technology behind the platform is complex but simple to operate. The MobileCoach allows for a clear separation between the process, the contents and the participants’ data of an intervention. Thus MobileCoach training sessions can easily be revised and extended at any time. This makes sense for future communication interfaces, in particular. To complement participants’ subjective information, the configuration of MobileCoach training sessions is also structured by objective information – such as the heart rate or other physiological data.

With the first version of the MobileCoach, dialogue-based communication is exclusively conducted through SMS. This allows for the development of low-level interventions with a maximum scope. Participants will only need a mobile phone in order to be able to use the MobileCoach. Internet access will only be necessary for the registration and the initial interview.

Source code open to industry and research
“With the use of the so-called Apache licence for the source code of the MobileCoach, we ensure that the platform may also be used and developed further in the context of commercial projects – without having to publish the new source code,” explains project leader Tobias Kowatsch. In this way, the initiators of the open-source project want to support the adoption of the platform in practice. In particular, however, they want to enable other research institutions, as well as students of IT, psychology and behavioural economics, to use and further develop the platform in their own projects.

Further MobileCoach interventions in corporate health management are already in the pipeline. The platform is gradually being extended with various modules for the measurement and support of certain modes of behaviour. Above and beyond this, the MobileCoach is also intended to be used after in-patient addiction therapy and for the promotion of abstention from smoking.

Photo: Photocase / Lomography

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