New Smartphone App for Self-Improvement

Platform acts as a customized mentor
By Marie Yeung
Marie Yeung
Marie Yeung
December 30, 2013 Updated: December 30, 2013

A new smartphone platform, developed by a professor and his students, aims to redirect technology from distracting to effective with user-friendly apps that serve as a coach, a mentor, or a resourceful companion.

Jasprit Singh, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, has developed a platform similar to that of Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and pretty much anyone can use it. 

“Technology has to take a goal instead of providing more things,” said Singh in a telephone interview. “It has to be more selective and help people be more selective, whether a person wants to lead a life physically, socially, or spiritually.”

Singh believes that app design should not come from computer scientists, but instead from people who are really going to create the next generation of technology.

“You could be a student of literature or music and you can add content that is unique to what you have,” said Singh. “Engineering students think differently than students from literature or arts students, and when they come together they produce something really beautiful.”

Digital Mentors

“These apps are called ‘digital mentors,’ designed almost to mimic a friend who is knowledgeable and who can bring out the best in you,” said Singh. 

According to Singh, technology today has lead many people along a path of addiction through things such as video games, online gaming, and Facebook. 

“It has come to a point where it sucks out the time from us, and instead of using our time in a more productive way, we neglect to nurture our relationships or health,” he said, adding that these apps will help people refrain from using technology aimlessly, and “actually guide you to experiences that are useful.” 

The students in Singh’s course, called Imagine, Innovate, Act!, have developed apps for wellness. Balance is for senior citizens and offers easy, short exercise videos that improve coordination and prevent falls, WeeAddition guides women through pregnancies, and Joggle helps encourage creativity for art, poetry, and music. 

“What we want is technology designed by physicians or medical students who have the great ideas, or people who are in art or music,” said Singh.

Singh believes that this platform will set a growing trend in app development because this is an app that anyone can develop, and he hopes it will help to relieve the disharmony between what we want, what we know, and what we do. 

Singh and his colleague Dr. John Hinckley, adjunct research scientist in electrical engineering and computer science, jointly created the app program.

“We believe it’s unique in that it offers the ability to make multimedia content and a basic, but fully functioning app without traditional coding skills,” said Hinckley in a University of Michigan report. “We’re not aware of anything like it.”

Marie Yeung