Dreaming Of An Open Step Tracker

In a recent post by Marius Watz on Code & Form, he talks about the FitBit and how it's a shame that they don't let the person who just paid $100 for the device access their data out of the box. Instead, FitBit offers a premium account for $49/year which allows for the ability to completely export your own data.

Now, I understand that every company needs a business model, and here, the data you generate is the valuable resource you are transmitting back to FitBit's servers. This is what they can monetize on. I would be surprised if there was much of profit made on the actual hardware. The device itself looks like a really neat data gathering tool, it's just a shame that all this data you are generating is at the hands of other people who need to keep a company afloat and employees paid.

What I would love to see made, and who knows, if I can do it myself I will try, is a device, similar in form and function to a FitBit, but is powered by open source code. There would be no central server that I would need to send my data to and the data would be saved in a simple format which would not proprietary.

What this means is that for people who just love data, they can have complete control over what is and isn't done with that data. The data you are generating isn't to serve someone else's bottom line and it isn't sitting on someone else's server behind a pay wall. With this kind of control the device could be used to track much more sensitive information such as location. No one would want to send the location continuously to third party servers but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be cool to track that sort of information. Imagine being able to see every place you have been to in the past ten years on a map and knowing that that data was collected with your knowledge for the pure purpose of tracking data. It's not being done by a cell phone company or government and there's no question as to who owns the data generated and what can be done with it.

The possibilities for a piece of hardware that just talks to what you want it to talk to is pretty limitless. Imagine after years of use being able to track activity in not only steps counted but locations visited on a map. You could identify major life events and changes. Possibly even trends which could reveal issues that a one time doctor visit could not.

With just a few simple sensors attached to your person at all times, the amount of valuable data generated is astounding. Sadly right now all that data is being siphoned from the people generating it to companies who need to pay bills. The sad truth is that no matter what a company promises, they still have the control.

Data which could be tracked

  • Steps
  • Altitude
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • GPS Location

Just a dream ... for now

Right now this is all just thoughts, but oh how amazing it would be to get this working. As a person who already logs far too much data to a simple TXT file, being able to log position and activity over time is mouth watering. I'm not even sure I would do anything with the data in the short term, but the long term implications and trends which could be found are huge.

Initial Plans

I'm thinking of messing around with some really simple and clunky hardware to see if I could put a prototype together to test in the next few months. I'm thinking a good place to start would be a simple Arduino board with a few needed sensors. The main focus would not be the hardware but instead the software needed to fuel such a device.

Things to figure out with Arduino prototype

  • Logging rates
  • Detecting steps with an accelerometer
  • Sorting out the sensitivity of sensors and possible short comings
  • Storage formats of data
  • Transferring data back to a computer

Hopefully I can make some progress with this in the coming weeks. If anybody is interested in the project feel free to contact me on Twitter or through this site. I would love to hear peoples' thoughts and feedback. Who knows, maybe what I'm looking for is already created and I just don't know about it yet.

Short URL: http://gl2.ca/q