Human Computer Interaction
ERCIM News No.46, July 2001 [contents]

Wireless Wellness Monitor

by Juha Pärkkä and Raimo Lappalainen

The Wireless Wellness Monitor project was started in order to apply home networks to self-monitoring of health. A prototype of a wireless health monitoring system for home-use was built and feasibility of such a system was studied. In WMM, a weight management application was implemented on top of the system.

Our vision is that in the future, wireless home networks will be available in many homes. The core of the home network will be a home server with processing power comparable to PCs. The home server will also provide space for data storage and a gateway to the Internet. Wireless terminals will be able to access the home network locally (eg, by using Bluetooth) or remotely (eg, by using Internet). Measurement devices will be able to join the home network and send the acquired data to home server for storage, analysis and display. A wireless home network will allow peripherals (eg measurement devices), wireless terminals (eg smart phones) and data storage devices to communicate wirelessly.

Based on this vision, we built a prototype (see Figure 1) with currently available hardware and software. Self-monitoring of weight was chosen as the first application field. The fundamental idea behind the application is the behavioural feedback model (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: The home network relies on the Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) technology. The home server is a PC with WLAN access point. The measurement devices, a scale and a heart rate monitor, can join the home network via a proxy, which is a portable computer equipped with a WLAN card. Two wireless terminals are used, a portable pen computer with a WLAN card and a WAP enabled cellular phone. The core of WWM software runs on the home server as a collection of Jini services implemented using Remote Method Invocation (RMI). Figure 2: Behavioural feedback model for weight control. The behavioural feedback system provides data of changes of weight and physical activity immediately and over long periods of time.

The WWM software provides four information sources to the user: (1) Behavioural Feedback System displays the measured data immediately after each measurement on userís wireless terminal and allows browsing of measured and analysed data whenever, wherever needed. (2) Nutrition and Exercise Database gives calorie values of different food items and mean calorie consumption of different activities. It also lets the user compare the foods and activities. (3) Instructions Database provides general information on weight management.
(4) Expert Service Interface makes data exchange with professional healthcare services possible.

In the current system, when the user weighs himself, the result is stored automatically on the home server and displayed on the userís wireless terminal. Charts of long-term weight history, instructions and calorie comparisons can be viewed on the wireless terminal. The instructions database as well as the nutrition and exercise database can reside on the Internet, so that they can be updated regularly and the user can always use up-do-date information. The Expert Service Interface is not yet fully implemented and the Instructions Database has not been integrated to the system.

A feasibility study was carried out as the software specification and a rough demo version of the software were available. The aim of the feasibility study was to find out how possible users evaluated the services that WWM provides. Especially, focus was on the content of the services, ie to find out if the services were what the candidate user needed and whether the services were appraised as useful and easy to use. 12 persons (9 women and 3 men, age between 23 and 61) participated individually in a structured theme interview. Three persons had no past or present weight problem, while the others had or had had overweight. Three men and two women had never tried to lose weight, but the remaining persons actively managed their weight or had done so at some point in life.

The services were seen to be useful and the interviewees did not see any critical problems associated with the services. The Behavioural feedback system and the Expert service interface were seen as the main motivating factors in the WWM. The interviewees thought that the most probable user groups would be the young people and women. General arguments for this was that the young people are more technology oriented, and that women are more interested in weight control issues than men. Four of the interviewees spontaneously mentioned the mobile aspect of the system as a benefit. The benefit they mentioned was the increased availability of advice (from database services) in difficult situations, eg, at dinner table or during grocery shopping.

Behavioural feedback system was seen to motivate long-term use, because it shows the consequences of oneís behaviour. Nutrition and exercise database divided the interviewees into two groups more clearly than the other services. Interviewees who kept nutritional diary, regarded the service as highly useful as it would help them to find the information they needed. On the other hand, persons who were not on such a diet considered the service less useful. Instructions database was seen useful, but problematic because so much information is available in magazines and other literature. Frequent updating of the instructions database was expected. Expert Service Interface was found necessary for connecting the system to a professional healthcare service. Such connection was considered to make the system more humane. It was thought especially useful for beginners to learn how to do weight management right. Five interviewees saw consultation as anxiety arousing, because the user might have the feeling that he is being observed.

In WWM, the research concentrated on building a generic software framework to be used in different applications utilising a home network. A demo application for weight management was developed. New types of wellness monitoring applications utilising the framework will be developed in future projects. The new, wireless environment facilitates installing of different peripherals to the home server. Also the amount of user interaction needed in the process consisting of measurement, storage and display is minimised and data exchange with professional healthcare services is made possible.

The WWM project took place in January-December 2000. The partners involved were VTT Information Technology, Department of Psychology in University of Tampere, Polar Electro Oy and Nokia Research Center. The project was partly funded by TEKES.


Please contact:
Juha Pärkkä — VTT Information Technology
Tel: +358 3 316 3346