IOT Persuasive Applications:  Getting the Environment to Help in Achieving our Goals

IOT Persuasive Applications: Getting the Environment to Help in Achieving our Goals

By Sanda Berar

One of the most attractive applications for consumer IOT consists of creating a physical environment that supports humans in achieving goals.

The persuasive technology term was coined in 2003 by B.J. Fogg. It is described as “software or information systems designed to reinforce, change or shape attitudes or behaviors or both without using coercion or deception”.

Phase 1: Persuasive mobile applications

Since 2003, a great deal of progress has been made in developing applications of persuasive technology. Health maintenance, including dieting and discontinuation of smoking is one of the biggest applied areas. On mobile phones, the technology has the potential to increase the persuasive effect by the promise of giving feedback at the right moment and right place. Even more, the diversity of sensors now present on smartphones provide ways to achieve persuasion not only based on time and location but also based on sensed context.

The “Quitty” application has been designed to motivate health behavior change and persuade people to quit smoking. It engages smokers in real-time, wherever they are, and its feedback is tailored to the quitting stage.

Figure 1: Quitty: Smoking cessation application










Tens to hundreds of applications exist in mobile stores to assist weight management and diet control, but according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, most of them score low on inducing long-term behavior changes [1]. “Lose It!” by Fitnow Inc. got the highest score on the usage of persuasive strategies. The application includes weight tracking, food logging, calorie counting, exercise logging and goal reminders and makes tracking as easy as possible in the aim to enable lasting lifestyle changes.

Figure 2: Lose It! Weight control application


Powered by sensors and ubiquitous connectivity, persuasive mobile applications perform real time analysis of human behavior and allow for immediate feedback and interaction with the users. However, their potential is limited. Being handheld or residing in the pocket, the device itself does not offer true ambient awareness and is limited in the types of actuation it can provide.

Phase 2: Persuasive (Personal) Objects

With IOT and smart connected gadgets, the applications can be extended further into the physical world. The surrounding objects can really help us to self-manage and induce positive changes in our behavior.

The emergence of commercial wearable devices for tracking fitnessrelated activities represents the first widespread adoption of persuasive IOT devices. Fitbit, Microsoft Band and the rest of the activity trackers on the market today are designed to encourage their users to maintain the desirable level of activity in their life – by applying Peter’s Drucker rule: “What’s measured improves”.

Figure 3: Microsoft Band


Assisted weight management: Applying the power of persuasive applications to the old-fashioned bathroom scale, Withings smart scale can measure weight and body-fat and privately upload the data to the cloud. “Because data is great, but personalized coaching is even better” the dedicated Health Mate application breaks down a user’s main goals into achievable weekly targets and follows up the progress with relevant tips and reminders.

Figure 4: Withings smart scale


Poor eating habits are correlated to increased weight as well as poor digestion and health risks – being one of the most common habits people are trying to change. The HAPIfork is a connected, sensor enabled fork that monitors eating habits and comes with an application and coaching program designed to improve eating behavior and help you slow down.

Figure 5: HAPIfork


There are even smarter gadgets that can help with improving our drinking habits. Vessyl is a cup that recognizes any beverage you pour into it, displays its nutritional content, and syncs all your drinking habits to your smartphone. The device tracks how much you’re drinking and indicates your hydration level. It can help to improve your water drinking habits, reduce your daily caffeine or sugary drink intake and even support weight management control with the capability to display the nutritional content.

Figure 6: Vessyl cup


Zami Smart Chair includes sensors that can track posture, sitting periods and even fine-grained details about your behavior while seated – such as whether you fidget. The companion application is designed to prompt you to move more and provides feedback on sitting habits, coaching toward good posture and a healthier lifestyle.

Figure 7: Zami Smart Chair


Medication management is another application area. CleaverCap is a persuasive pill bottle that connects to WiFi, dispenses only as directed, sends notifications and reminders and uploads patient data to the cloud. The system increases the adherence to medication and has the potential to decrease the patient’s health risks.

Figure 8: Cleaver Cap


Teaching children healthy habits by using playful engagement techniques is not a new trend. It is hence not a surprise that one of the first applications of commercial IOT gadgets using persuasive technologies came in the form of smart toothbrushes for children. Kolibree is a sensor enabled toothbrush (has an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer) that comes with a mobile application and motivates healthy habits by turning brushing time into an interactive game.

Figure 9: Kolibree toothbrush


Phase 3: Persuasive Ambient Intelligence?

By combing and adapting the power of IOT personal devices and public ambient devices, the next phase can emerge: ambient intelligence or “smart environments that change and accommodate users’ needs and wishes when a person enters it” [2].

In such a scenario, the environment or physical space of a person consists of sensors that can sense the user and his surroundings and actuators that can offer feedback and evoke actions perceivable to the user. The ambient intelligence is providing consistency and cross-application of persuasion independent of the object used and only based on the knowledge that persuasion is required.

It’s 2020 and your goal is to lose some weight. But now, it’s Friday evening and none of your friends are available, you are getting quite bored and the idea of a pizza and beer start to sound very good indeed. You start walking toward your favorite pizzeria and when you order, the menu board at the pizzeria refreshes to show the calories you are going to take in; your wearable band privately notifies you of the consequences of your diet. You have second-thoughts, start to wonder if you can actually skip the pizza and at that moment, your friend calls and asks you to a dance club. You cancel the order and go for the dance — your weight target is under control!

What happened? Was it a coincidence or did all the pieces really come together at the right moment? Did the environment support you in achieving your weight goals?

The menu screen at the pizzeria detected that you have a very low calorie target set on your wearable device. It therefore connected to your wearable band to send the significant calorie intake of your order. Combined with the information received from the weight scale in the morning and the activity tracking data, the wearable app was able to calculate accurately the pizza’s impact on your weight and predict what you will see tomorrow morning on the scale. The GPS on the mobile phone identified the location you are in as being a pizza place and sent the information (together with a calorie alert) to your friend which was part of the support group helping with your weight target.

The data has flowed through your environment (both the surrounding gadgets and your virtual networks) to influence your behavior and deliver the desired persuasion.

As IOT continues to evolve, the strategies of persuasion will blend into the environment creating an ambient intelligence where the physical and virtual spaces are merged.


  1. Mobile Applications for Weight Management: Theory-Based Content Analysis. Kristen M.J. Azar & all. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 45, Issue 5, November 2013, Pages 583–589.
  2. Persuasion Mobility in Ambient Intelligence. Lukas Ruge, Andreas Schrader. Ambient 2013, The Third International Conference of Ambient Computing, Applications, Services and Technologies

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