Why not wearables: Using population sensors instead to promote physical activity

Tonight I’ll be presenting at Transportation Techies (@TechiesDC) (Presenting Quantified Community at #WalkHackNight August 20, Transportation Techies Meetup) walk hack night on the use of population sensors instead of equipping people with wearables to promote physical activity.

Why not wearables to improve population health?

#walkingmeetings are the best.

A photo posted by Ted Eytan (tedeytan) on

They work for me, but I am not the user.

What have we learned with our population sensors?

  • We’re able to see our trails/sidewalks in a completely different way – we had no idea that 1,000-1,200 people were walking by most weekdays.
  • The inflow and outflow of people to downtown Washington, DC, has a regular rhythm
  • The Metropolitan Branch Trail itself has a visual heartbeat when looking at daily pedestrian counts
  • We can replicate these findings using different methods – infrared vs computed cell phone video ( thank you @eco_counter and @placemeter )
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A kind of heartbeat (View on Flickr.comManipulate on Plot.ly yourself)
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Comparing two methodologies – infrared (Eco-Counter) and computed video (Placemeter) gives reasonable fidelity (View on Flickr.comManipulate on Plot.ly)

What can we do?

  • We can do things now – we don’t have to equip every human with a device
  • We can convert more and more of our activities to ones that include physical activity
  • We can see the impact of our work, in near real time, in a privacy protected, efficient, robust way
  • We can become systems thinkers and focus on the design of our environment which may impact health much more than the habits of a smaller group of individuals

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Changing a sitting meeting to a walking one gets you visible results (View on Flickr.comManipulate on Plot.ly yourself)

Why does this matter?

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The differing life expectancies of men in Washington, DC (View on Flickr)

With the addition of a Capital Bikeshare (@bikeshare) station, and a new sidewalk open on the other side of the street, we have more options than ever to model the future of physical activity for a city. Come join us!

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Living with Bikeshare, in the active transportation hub of our nation’s capital (View on Flickr.comManipulate yourself on Plot.ly)


Ted Eytan, MD