Inspiration

Humans are social creatures, and social distancing -- staying apart, staying out of groups, and staying at home -- is completely unnatural to us! This is even harder for younger folks -- those who feel invincible, get easily bored, and have a penchant for ignoring the rules. But in these times, rebelling against social distancing mandates can result in any one of us catching COVID-19 or unwittingly becoming a community transmitter, putting others at great risk. We created MyBubble to be the game that makes social distancing fun through a combination of technology, behavioural economics (gamification), and positivity all rolled into one!

What it does

Each week, players of MyBubble get a new challenge to keep them mindful and engaged, such as signing up for an online course, going outside for personal exercise, or scheduling daily video chats with those most isolated. They get three social-distancing “bubbles” and are challenged to survive the week without bursting these bubbles. Bursting is detected using smartphone functions like:

  • Bluetooth LE, for detecting one-to-one bubble breaches (the 6ft/2m rule)
  • Bluetooth LE, also for warning when the user may be at risk of breaking a mandated group-size rule;
  • GPS, for using geofencing to remind users not to leave home unless absolutely necessary!

MyBubble provides users the opportunity to also redeem themselves, should they falter, by learning more about COVID-19, contacting a loved one, sharing a positive message via social media, or being friendly and kind toward others while maintaining a safe distance. If they're able to make it to the end of the week with all bubbles in tact, they can share how they fulfilled their social distancing duty with MyBubble badges, post their scores to the community leaderboard, and get rewarded with Suds--MyBubble’s point system.

MyBubble also contributes to much needed economic activity by allowing users to use Suds for discounts and credits with local businesses and national sponsors.

Ultimately, the combination of the behavioural economic principles, combined with the technology to help measure and remind players of the proper behaviours, socially peer-reinforced through the leaderboards and positivity messaging can support better compliance (vs. the "broad societal expectations" that are the current enforcement mechanism). These, along with the fun in MyBubble creates stickiness, triggers network effects (increasing uptake), and can habituate an otherwise difficult lifestyle change.

How we built it

The team collaborated on the initial design using Figma.

The prototype app was built with a javascript framework and is currently implemented as a progressive web app (PWA). Using a PWA was chosen for speed of prototyping and for easy deployment on Android and iOS devices. It currently queries the geolocation API: it can calculate distance between two points (we are still developing the display functionality to make use of this work in progress). The idea is to set a location for the user’s home so the user can get prompted to ensure they're only leaving home if necessary, and are rewarded for staying within a certain distance from home.

MyBubble uses Bluetooth LE Advertising and beacon technology to detect other nearby phones and, thus, the people using them. We used an Altbeacon open source Android app and a Cypress PSoC 4 development board to confirm that the Altbeacon protocol can be used to detect when two devices are less than 6 feet apart. We also researched the viability of turning the phone into both a scanner of beacons and a beacon itself. This enables the phone to broadcast it’s present to other MyBubble-equipped devices while it also scans for them and calculates the distance between it and other devices.

For group detection, normal, non-beacon Bluetooth LE Advertising packets are scanned from nearby devices to determine more generally how many devices are close by.

The links include our GitHub content and videos demonstrating the technology's capabilities in determining proximity and other functions mentioned.

Challenges

  • Determining how to balance user compliance with adoption: we put a lot of thinking and anecdotal user validation to determine people's social distancing habits and how to best measure/incentivize/nudge users
  • Exploring Bluetooth's capabilities: All other Bluetooth packages are built around particular pkgs so more for app development so a react native app would work for this. Time and effort was put into determining just how accurate --Bluetooth beacon technology currently is and can be.
  • Working across 3 very different time zones!

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • Came up with an intriguing concept (validation): we shared the idea with multiple people also in stay-in-place or self-isolation contexts, and they really liked the idea! They thought it's a great way to keep on track with the right practices in social distancing, and they appreciated that it was some form of recognition for their efforts in social distancing. Many -- teens and older -- really wanted to download it!
  • The technology: Getting a Bluetooth beacon and beacon scanning native Android app up-and-running very quickly (see the videos). The Android app was already available as open source, but the beacon required some bit-level hacking to get the right data advertised. It pays to keep old dev boards lying around the garage!
  • International collaboration: our team has 8 hours apart end-to-end, but we managed to work together thanks to a lot of Google Hangouts, an active Slack workstream, and a lot of patience!
  • Had fun! Only wish we had more time!

What we learned

  • Focus first: we had a lot of ideas about features and ways the app could work, thought out many scenarios of how to "game the system", and what ways to prevent community transmission -- eventually we were able to focus on the core problem, and on a core market (younger people who may be less compliant than most people with social distancing rules)
  • Build a multidisciplinary team: our venn diagram had slight overlaps, but we found that our skillsets really complemented each other!
  • Pushed our boundaries: each of us learned something new -- whether it was a new program, pushed the bounds of our current understanding, or new ways of working!

What's next for MyBubble

  • Put it all together, and polish!: get the components (UI/backend/etc.) put together into a cohesive product
  • Explore whether to build an API for location: to really harness the geolocation, it would be best to build a API that could receive the users location and send back how many they overlap with - for groups more so that social distancing as bluetooth is more accurate.
  • Refine the Bluetooth tech: Investigate ideas for improving distance measurement accuracy when both phones are using our app and operating as both beacons and scanners; Investigate ideas for distance calculations based solely on Bluetooth Advertising packets when the peer device is not operating as a beacon (e.g. is not using our app)
  • Find partner-sponsors: Recruit potential partners (e-tailers, and for city-versions -- local businesses to help get them support); also find potential partners for challenges (e.g., online classes that can be linked into challenges, content/video, etc.)
  • Flesh out the rewards economics and rules: to prevent "gaming" the system and ensuring best compliance with social distancing
  • Marketing: once it's ready for launch -- we'd like to connect with our target audience by leveraging social media and influencers who can help share encouragement to keep up their duty in social distancing, and show how they're using it to keep themselves honest too
  • Expand the team: we need as much help as we get -- especially in building the app, improving the UI/UX, and refining the technology

Our Team

Randall Baran-Chong (Canada): Randall is a global healthcare strategist with a keen interest in technology and human behaviour. He likes to combine the 3 to help connect the healthcare ecosystem, improve health outcomes, and empower people to own their health.

Kate O'Brien (Ireland): Kate is a former doctor-turned-full-stack javascript developer. Kate has experience also with node.js, react, and a keen interest in cybersecurity, DevOps, and getting involved in the community!

Chris White (USA): Chris is an audio/software/embedded systems technologist currently doing R&D on next-generation Bluetooth audio. Motivated by his Christian faith, he found this hackathon in his search for ways to apply his skills and resources to love others in the time of COVID-19.

And always looking for new people to who want to make MyBubble grow!

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Updates

posted an update

We're happy to share that MyBubble was selected as a "Spotlight Project" and one of 5 featured at the Pandemic Response Hackathon's Closing Ceremonies!

The team and I are very enthusiastic with the support, feedback, and recommendations from the community -- and we continue to work to bring this into reality!

If you're interested in partnering, being part of our efforts, or connect us with someone who might, please contact us at: mybubblethegame@gmail.com

In particular, we are looking for: 1) Developers: in particular, those with experience in these areas -- React native, game development, and Bluetooth or GPS functionalities 2) UX: helping to make it functional and sticky with users 3) Partner-sponsors: organizations interested supporting community wellness by offering "rewards" 4) Funders: to get the resources we need to bring speed-to-market 5) Digital marketing: helping setup our online presence, social media, and eventually using influencer channels to promote it with our target demographic

Stay tuned for more updates!

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