Daniel Collins, a native of Ireland with a physics degree from Trinity College in Dublin, dreamed up FitPetz last fall in order to participate in the Mendoza College of Business’s Ideas Challenge. Now the application, aimed at motivating children to more active play by linking it to their favorite videogames, is on the way to commercialization.
FitPetz is an extracurricular activity for Collins, whose ESTEEM capstone thesis involves CNVRS, a mobile app that functions as a platform for more structured social conversations than the free-for-all of Twitter. The app applies an algorithm to users’ interests in order to alert them to conversations on the topic. Collins has joined the CNVRS team.
“I’ve been working on things that are hardware and software,” he says. “I know the physics is useful to give you a good understanding of software, problem-solving, technical skills.I’ve spent a lot of this year mainly focused on the business stuff, which has really opened my eyes.”
Collins heard about ESTEEM when he roomed with a Notre Dame student during a summer research program in Cork. “It looked like a great program to me – a combination of technology and entrepreneurship,” he says. “The whole thing about the ESTEEM program is using technology to have a social impact.”
FitPetz, developed with ESTEEM classmate Finn Pegler, aims to impact the health of children by transforming couch-sitters’ videogaming into a reason for playing hard. The activity tracker, a sort of smartwatch with a color screen, uses their personal avatar, and the company is working with videogame makers to build in opportunities to earn level-advancing gain points by playing outside.
“When the kid is more active, the character will be shown to be more happy and active,” Collins says. “When they’re less active, the character will be bored,” maybe sending a message urging them to go outside. “The more active the kid is, the more activity points they can earn to unlock new levels and gain rewards in games they enjoy. They’ll be able to gather these points by going outside. They can level up rather than just playing the game for hours.”
FitPetz team of advisors includes a computer science professor who has helped launch startups, a Silicon Valley advisor who runs a hardware accelerator, an engineering professor who has done product development and marketing, and a Notre Dame research associate who is an expert at industrial design. A Silicon Valley company has approached the company about partnering and building in access to FitPetz’s games.
Collins and Pegler, who has an engineering background, interviewed parents and children to gauge the market. “We came up with the idea from talking with parents and kids about what drives them,” he says. Children are using online games and apps. They love them. Parents are looking for a negotiating tool to get kids outside to play more. Over the last 6 months, there’s been a lot of work by other companies in this area. It is a market that is starting to take off.”
The partners recently added an anthropology expert to help improve the device’s effectiveness. “We’re hoping she can give us some insight on how to motivate kids,” Collins says. “The psychology for the motivation for kids is very different from that of an adult.”