WWU’s Moushumi Sharmin, Students Building the ‘MyQuitPal’ Smoking-Cessation System

by John Thompson
Office of Communications and Marketing
  • MyQuitPal uses GPS to track the user and map past instances of smoking, as well as show areas of high smoking use, the help users steer clear of problem areas that have caused them to relapse in the past.

As part of her research focus on Human-Centered Technology, Western Washington University Assistant Professor of Computer Science Moushumi Sharmin and her students have completed a prototype design for “MyQuitPal,” a smartphone-based smoking-cessation system that integrates technology similar to that in a Fitbit to help track user’s data and assist them in quitting smoking.

MyQuitPal is a smartphone application that links to sensors on the user that detects heart rate, respiration, stress levels, geographical location, and more. This data is compiled into a software model that gives the user statistics, tracks their performance, shows areas on their smartphone’s map where they have smoked in the past, and based on that data, sends them messages if it detects high levels of stress or areas of past smoking activity that the user is approaching.

“This is all part of our goal of creating technological solutions for individual people, based on their needs,” said Sharmin. “That’s what human-centered technology is really all about.”

Sharmin’s work on designing technology for long-term behavior change, which is funded in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, started in 2013. However, the conceptualization, design and development of MyQuitPal started in the beginning of 2016 with a collaboration with a single student, Theodore Weber, at Western. This year, she opened up the project to more students, who have taken on important parts of the project, from extending the smartphone based system to a comprehensive Web-based analytical tool.

Weber, a Computer Science major from Shoreline, said he was intrigued to work on the project with Sharmin.

“Addiction prevention has always been an important subject for me, so when I found out about Professor Sharmin’s research I was attracted immediately. Being able to use the skills I’ve acquired in the Computer Science department to solve real-world problems has been an amazing opportunity,” he said.

Sharmin and her students will be taking MyQuitPal into a public testing phase this Spring and Summer quarters, utilizing volunteer subjects from the university to see how the product helps the smokers to quit or reduce smoking most effectively.

The test groups will be broken down into three groups: a control group of smokers who want to stop smoking, but who will not be using MyQuitPal; a group of smokers who will use the basic system of sensors and the app to track their data and see how they are doing compared to their peers; and a third group that utilizes not only the app and the sensors, but the system’s built-in communications functions that will send them messages during periods of smoking activity or high stress. Stress will be measured as it is considered one of the most common triggers that can often lead to smoking among those trying to quit.

“We really want to track how these different groups respond to MyQuitPal and get an idea of how the model that sends these messages automatically works on the testers, and how the actual language of the messaging – and the timing of their arrival – helps the users,” she said.

Sharmin said she worked with a pair of behavioral-science researchers at Northwestern University and University of Michigan to craft the messaging, which will range from notes of encouragement (“You’re doing great! It’s been X days since you smoked!”) to related statistics about how their effort is paying off (“you are spending $X less a week on cigarettes now, way to go!”).

Sharmin said the next steps in the development of MyQuitPal will depend on how the testing goes this Spring and Summer.

“We may be close, we may have a lot of work to do, we’ll see,” she said.

Sharmin is about to finish her second academic year of teaching at Western; she came to WWU from a faculty position at the University of Memphis. She obtained her doctorate in Computer Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne in 2013.

For more information on her research or the MyQuitPal app, contact Moushumi Sharmin at (360) 650-2249. A short video demo of MyQuitPal is available at http://myweb.students.wwu.edu/webert3/.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 10:37am