Some apps provide helpful daily reminders about physical fitness, but UMSI PhD candidate Gaurav Paruthi believes a more personalized approach is what really makes a difference.
“I’m looking at how persuasive interventions can be used to encourage people to take up physical activity and to have healthy behavior,” Gaurav said. “For long-term effectiveness, you need these interventions to be more personalized and fun.”
Gaurav’s research interests include human-computer interaction (HCI) and ubiquitous computing. With another PhD student, he is working to develop a personal assistant for health improvement. The app would track the person’s activity and suggest healthier alternatives when appropriate.
“We envision this as a mobile app that utilizes data, such as calendar information, Fitbit, and location. It would then nudge the user by sending them a message like ‘You have two meetings and an hour between those meetings. You might want to walk to Starbucks and get a coffee,’” Gaurav said. “There are different dimensions you need to think about. Some of the suggestions need lead time; others can be just-in-time messages.”
To deliver behavior-changing communications that would help people to walk more or engage in other healthy activities, Gaurav has been exploring the use of crowd-sourcing to generate new and original messages.
Working with his advisor, UMSI Associate Professor Mark Newman, as well as UMSI Assistant Professor Predrag Klasnja and Ken Resnicow of the U-M School of Public Health, Gaurav has been leveraging HCI and health communication literature to build tools that enable paid workers to create new messages that are context-appropriate.
“Current state-of-the-art health communication relies on experts, which limits the scalability of personalized health interventions,” Gaurav said. “With the increase in the use of health apps, the lack of health messages becomes even more visible. One solution to this problem is the use of crowd-sourcing.”
Gaurav also likes to work within the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ITCD) domain. He is currently trying to understand the use of online microfinance websites like www.kiva.org, which provides a platform for lenders to connect with entrepreneurs in low-income regions.
“The SI 721 Data Mining course had a competition where we were vying to give the best prediction of the team the lender would join,” Gaurav said. “That got me interested in Kiva and data mining and led me to do an internship at Telefonica Research in the summer of 2013.”
Gaurav chose UMSI after working as an intern at Microsoft Research in India in 2010. “I applied to the very limited number of HCI institutions where they have a good HCI lab, and the University of Michigan is one of the best,” Gaurav said, adding, “Associate Professor Mark Newman’s interests align with mine.”
Gaurav has a BE in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India.