Project Boundary

Project Boundary

Project Boundary is an exploration of indoor proximity sensing beacons that could potentially create a more aware and intelligent workplace. The project uses low energy Bluetooth sensors to deliver well-timed and contextually relevant triggers delivered to the user in order to encourage the adoption of healthy behaviors within the workplace. It hopes to cover new ground in the field of corporate wellness and gamify the interactions of the user with their physical surroundings.


Project Boundary was conceptualized by the IDEA Lab’s Innovator in Residence – Naganand Murty and Nayan Jain – a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow, as an experiment in radically redefining workplace wellness.

Today’s corporate wellness platforms tend to center largely around health portals, and wellness services to enable the employees (users) to adopt and maintain activities that are beneficial to their health. However, many of these programs have not been able to effectively engage employees, and corporate wellness often does not tend to register high on an employee’s radar, when they think about their own health and wellness in the workplace.

Our project is an exploration of the following design intent – how might we better engage users within the bounds of where they are, and what they do over the course of a regular day at work, and get them to do just a little bit more towards benefiting their health.

In order to fulfill this intent, we intend to explore a novel approach to corporate wellness, using proximity sensing to gamify the workplace. We hope to demonstrate how an everyday physical space might be transformed to become something more relevant to addressing the wellness needs of users, by engaging them where they are, as they go about their daily work. We want to re-envision the workplace (in conjunction with the user’s mobile phone) as an intelligent ecosystem that enables the user to maintain and adopt healthy behaviors. We hope to do two things primarily:

Help the user better understand how they navigate through specific physical indoor environments, by providing context-relevant triggers and timely feedback to them
Gamify how the user might navigate the indoor environment by creating a system that might encourage competition, exploration, interpersonal interaction etc., all in the context of workplace wellness

If it helps to think about this project in the context of a behavior change framework, we hope to improve the quality and contextual relevance of triggers (messages delivered at the right time and the right place) to users, who might be already at a certain minimum threshold of ability (they are already up and moving), and motivation (they might be motivated to compete against themselves or against a social peer group)

System Description

The system for Project Boundary consists of the following functional blocks:

boundary 2

How does the system work?

It might help to think of this system as a set of lighthouses (the beacons) that help ships (users + their phones) navigate the seas (the physical work environment) in meaningful ways.

The beacons as a one-way transmitter

The beacons are one-way transmitters (essentially simple Bluetooth LE radios) which are continually transmitting a unique ID and, optionally, a static string of data. They are small (the size of a matchbox) and are powered by coin cells, and can last upwards of one to two years before needing to be recharged.

The phone as a receiver

The user’s phone is the receiver, and it is continually scanning for any beacon signal that it might pick up. Once the phone picks up a beacon signal, it ends up doing two things – it checks the beacon ID against an internal database containing a list of beacon IDs mapped against physical locations, which helps it to recognize the physical location the user has entered. The phone also ends up “ranging” its distance to the Bluetooth beacon by calculating the signal strength of the radio waves. This enables the phone to estimate (albeit very crudely) how close it is to a particular beacon. Ranging might also enable us to infer if the user is approaching the beacon or moving away from it.

Potential demos

While the gamut of activities that can be considered under the umbrella of corporate wellness is vast, given the limited time frame, project boundary will focus on a narrow sliver of what could eventually be a larger addressable set of needs. For the purposes of this demo, we intend to create a user engagement platform that will help users amplify their existing movement and physical activity as they go about their daily life. A few illustrative examples are described below:

We could look to introduce new behaviors that could seamlessly integrate with the users existing activity such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
We could also look to amplify existing behaviors, suggesting they take a longer route to their office.
We could look to increase the frequency or a particular activity, getting users to break a sedentary streak by motivating them to get up and move more frequently. etc.

Consider a very simple demo use case described below:

boundary 1

NOTE: The beacons do not display any information, they only prompt the user’s phone to display a notification, or capture contextual information.

Bob checks in to the Humphrey building promptly at 9:00 a.m. Every morning, he passes by the stairs and takes the escalator. What if we were able to remind Bob at the opportune moment that he might consider taking the stairs via a push notification on his phone? We might also be able to confirm if Bob does indeed end up taking the stairs and noting his “score” every time he chooses to take the stairs.

It will be argued that a simple notification might not be sufficient to cause most of us to act, and eventually we might need to worry about “notification fatigue”- but the beacon deployment allows us to consider different approaches toward tracking and motivating healthy behavior.

Once the basic beacon infrastructure is in place, we could try a host of “nudge” techniques – learning intelligently about what a particular user might respond to and tweaking the system to customize how it interacts with the user. Eventually, we hope to layer in some means to enable users to compete — against themselves, or against a peer group — since social influence and support has been shown to have a significant impact on enabling behavior change.

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