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Can technology make you happy?

by Hu Yoshida on Jan 29, 2013

Can technology make you happy?
This is the title of a featured article in IEEE Spectrum Magazine, December 2012 by Kazuo Yano, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Joseph Chancellor.

The sub title is: “Yes, and it can make your office a better place to work, too”

Lyubomirsky and collaborators at UC Riverside conducted studies that show that happiness can be systematically measured by measuring people’s habits and activities using sensor technology. Sensor data is more accurate than opinion surveys or human-generated data. They show that changing activities can change happiness.

The sensor used by the team was the Hitachi Business Microscope (HBM). HBM is a wearable sensor with six infrared transceivers, an accelerometer, flash memory, microphone, wireless transceiver, and an ion rechargeable battery that lasts two days. It measures body movements and voice levels, movements in the x, y, z axis, temperature and light. The sensor detects other HBM tag wearers within a 2 meter proximity, exchanging id’s, as well as location beacons in the workplace. The types of exchanges that take place are determined by monitoring movement and energy level of their voices.


One study that is cited in the article was the merger of two design teams. The two teams are identified as red and blue dots and the manager of the two teams is identified on top. One month after the merger, the communication between the teams remained segregated and hierarchical, and this feedback was given to the group. Three months after receiving the feedback, the teams became more integrated with a flatter hierarchy and employees reported greater satisfaction and productivity.


My colleague Michael Hay has talked about HBM in his blog. He showed how HBM was used to study traffic patterns in a retail store in relation to where the store employees were positioned. After 10 days of traffic pattern analysis, the store employees were repositioned and the result was an average 15% increase in sales per customer.

You may think that wearing a sensor while we work is a bit over the top, but most of us are already wearing one. It’s called a smart phone.

iPhone app Motion X – download from iTunes

Technology can not only make you happier, it can also help you sleep better.

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Comments (2 )

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Damian on 29 Jan 2013 at 9:37 pm

Wow, this sounds like putting Nike’s Fuel Band or RunKeeper (either on Android or iPhone, whichever your prefer!) inside of a corporate environment! I really like the idea of putting sensor technology to improve sales floors or work arrangements. While smartphones may act a sensor, it might be a better idea to stick to sensors due to 2 reasons. First, privacy issues. Second, consistency of reception: you don’t want to depend on your employee’s 3G or Wifi connectivities. What do you think?

Hu Yoshida on 01 Feb 2013 at 4:21 pm

I agree, using sensors like the Hitachi Business Microscope, means that you consent to being monitored for a specific purpose. However, we are surrounded by sensors, like smart phones, smart meters, street cameras, Google earth, automobile black boxes, etc, which capture information about us everyday. Hopefully it will help to make our lives better. However, as you pointed out there can be issues.

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