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Researchers help digital currency users get more rewards for exercising

Researchers at the Institute of Digital Healthcare in WMG, University of Warwick have been awarded an Innovate UK grant to assist Sweatco Ltd to further develop their app for users to earn more rewards from a broader range of exercise activities.

Sweatcoin, a digital currency generated by physical movement captured on a smartphone, has been a huge success, having already converted more than 80 billion of its users’ physical steps into virtual coins in reward for their exercise (walking and running). For now, Sweatcoin’s proprietary algorithm verifies outdoor movement using a number of other sensors, including GPS, to prevent potential ‘gaming of the system’.

The company now wants to expand the app to allow users to earn digital currency while cycling and when inside buildings, including activities such as running on a treadmill or simply walking around whilst at work. With the help of an Innovate UK grant, they are working with researchers in the Institute of Digital Healthcare in WMG at the University of Warwick to develop a solution, while blocking any methods to cheat through the use of computer validation techniques. Anton Derlyatka, co-funder of Sweatcoin said:

“Despite all the successes by many organisations in promoting healthy living, the existing solutions like gyms, activity trackers and many games fail to address the growing rates of obesity. That is because they fail to create a sustainable motivation to be physically active for the majority of us, and not just for the ones that do it already. Over 60% of the UK are classed as physically inactive. The vast majority can’t find motivation to exercise enough. Sweatcoin has developed a digital platform that makes physical movement immediately valuable through the generation of currency from activity. The currency can subsequently be exchanged for goods, services or experiences or donated to charities. Our collaboration with Warwick researchers will help us develop algorithms that will make Sweatcoin available to a greater number of people, in particular those that run/walk indoors or cycle outdoors”.

In addition to the verification algorithms, the project aims to investigate behavioural change in physical activity following use of the platform. This will also be coordinated by WMG reseachers, who will analyse app data and run focus groups with invited Sweatcoin users.

Mark ElliotLead investigator, Dr Mark Elliott who is Assistant Professor of Healthcare Technology and Behaviour Change at WMG says:

“Generating currency, while maintaining its value, requires intelligent algorithms to ensure only real steps or distance are converted into Sweatcoins. The company currently uses a verification algorithm to prevent cheating. The problem is, for now, it can only verify outdoor steps as it relies on a GPS signal. We are helping Sweatcoin test and validate approaches that will verify the users’ actual movement using the available sensors on a smartphone, so the app is not just reliant on GPS. These new algorithms will allow the users to generate currency through steps captured indoors and extend the currency generating activities to include cycling. We will also be helping Sweatcoin to analyse their data and run focus groups to understand how rewards and incentives can create behavioural change in physical activity.”

The project will be running until May 2018.