The phone rings, you pick up. “I know where you are and what you are doing…” Is it the ranting of a lunatic nearby. No. Is it an Ex- you owe money to? No.

This is what your phone may some day say if it’s running the next generation of activity recognition (AR) software.

AR is a relatively young area of mobile technology using the onboard sensors of a device to determine information ranging from a user’s whereabouts, their method of transport or speed, to their health status, lifestyle and wellbeing.

Jeffrey Lockhart and his research team from the University of  Fordham surveyed promising future applications of mobile device AR and released their findings last month. The aim was to demonstrate novel applications of AR and compel others to recognise the opportunities it offers, “Given the large numbers of researchers and companies working in this area, one might expect that there would be many deployed activity recognition applications. Surprisingly, however, relatively little practical work has been done on the uses and applications of activity recognition with mobile devices” says Lockhart.

Current AR applications such as Nike+ Fuelband and Facebook already employ AR technology for social networking and fitness purposes but Lockhart believes much more can be done “Many other activity recognition projects and platforms are being developed, but generally, there are few practical, deployed applications proposed for AR…at this point such platforms are underutilized.”

The team break AR applications down into three main categories: ones that benefit end users, ones that benefit developers or third parties and finally those applications that benefit groups of people.

In the first instance, AR applications can be employed for health purposes such as detecting when  an older user has fallen. A fall detection application can be programmed to distinguish such an event from innocuous device activities and signal the event to an emergency contact list or the emergency services.

AR applications that benefit developers of third party interests include logging activities for targeted advertising. While this may seem dubious to tech-savvy Gen-Yers, the researchers claim that in a way, targeted advertising  indirectly benefits the individual  “These ads not only generate more revenue since the user is more likely to respond to the product or service advertised, but also make advertising less obtrusive because the ads are relevant to the user’s activities and interests.” Perhaps one day I’ll get an ad on my smartphone that is exactly what I wanted at that very moment, but I’m not holding my breath.

The truly original applications of AR the team discuss are those that benefit groups of people. Lockhart and his team indicate that a robust AR platform would not simply allow users to communicate their present location to a current social network, but could actually bring people together who exhibit similar lifestyles “Beyond the simple posting of current activities, activity recognition can be used to generate social networks. After identifying users who are in proximity of one another and share activity patterns, an application, like Actitracker (the AR platform Lockhart et al developed), can suggest a sphere of friends who fit similar activity qualities.”

The researchers conclude by describing the significant potential for using future AR applications to solve serious societal problems like childhood obesity. Additionally, they recommend future mobile technology be tailored to make better use of the AR applications they believe will be an important feature of tomorrow’s world.

Online Advocate/Australian Higher Education/Community Health/Youth Mental Health. Follow me on Twitter @writerinsight


  1. Merv

    01/11/2012 at 12:03 am

    I noticed Nokia Symbian also had an AR type function. An add-on was touted to be able to change profiles automatically depending on the activity it predicted I was doing.. sleeping, indoors, actively moving around, outdoors…

    It’s interesting to see that there is a name for these technologies beyond (AI), puts a marketing or big-brother-isque type spin on it.

  2. Thomas Mort

    01/11/2012 at 9:07 pm

    Yeah Merv, technology never ceases to amaze mate. As long as the tech remains in the right hands, I’m all for the progress-

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: