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Your Phone as a Personal Coach

A new cell-phone add-on collects your personal data to help correct your behavior.
August 30, 2007

Researchers at Accenture Technology Labs, in Palo Alto, CA, have developed a device to help let people know when they need to change their behavior. The gadget, called the Personal Performance Coach, collects data about a person’s actions through various sensors, including GPS, a microphone, and a heart monitor. This information is transmitted from a wireless headset (which will eventually be condensed into an ear bud) to the phone; the data is then offloaded to a server, where it is analyzed. The phone receives the report and displays the results in a pie chart, for example.

There are a number of research groups that are working on using sensors and mobile devices to collect more-accurate information about people’s behaviors. (See “Making Phones Polite” and “Gadgets That Know Your Next Move.”) Researchers at Intel are making sensing devices for elder-care applications in order to monitor elderly people who live alone.

Accenture is betting that one of the first applications of such sensing platforms will be in the corporate space, to help businesspeople be more effective when, for instance, making a sale or conducting a meeting.

From the press release:

The first application developed for the Personal Performance Coach prototype focuses on making individuals more effective in professional conversations, including sales calls, team meetings and negotiation sessions.

“The system matches observed behavior against performance goals in virtual real time and then makes suggestions about how to better achieve behaviors,” said [Alex Kass, a researcher at Accenture Technology Labs and the project leader]. “The neat thing is that, unlike in a training session, this monitors exactly what is happening in the field. If you set the goal, for example, to listen to your client for the first 20 minutes and not talk very much until you have the chance to hear what he has to say, and suddenly you’re interrupting him and talking 80 percent of the time, it will tell you.”

The verbose salesman can even determine his preferred method of feedback. He can have a voice–or a series of beeps–whisper in his ear that he’s talking too much, he can glance down and look at a device that will reveal a pie chart on who’s dominating the conversation, or he can choose to view it later on a desktop while going over the day’s sales notes.

There’s no mention of privacy measures in the release, and I’m sure that some people would balk at the idea of having a gadget collect all sorts of personal data and send it to a remote server. But perhaps some businesspeople don’t think the information is too sensitive, and they wouldn’t mind being monitored if it means improved job performance. Do you think this is a useful application of sensor technology?

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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