London, May 11: Inspired by the magic mirror used by the wicked queen in Snow White, or perhaps even the portrait of Dorian Gray, scientists have developed a thinking looking glass that reflects the future toll of junk food, sun, drugs and sloth on the body.
Known as the Persuasive Mirror, the device is the result of a French effort to encourage healthy living and will be tested on overweight teenagers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
The Californian team will spend months or even years refining the mirror’s predictions and weighing up the power of fat forecasts.
“We see great potential in using the technology available via the Persuasive Mirror not only to assess body image but also to determine how body image might be used to effect positive behavioural change,” said Dr Jeannie Huang, one of the UCSD team.
Developed at Accenture Technology Labs in Sophia Antipolis, France, the '10,000 prototype looks like a bathroom mirror. All you have to do is study your reflection, said Dr Ana Andr's del Valle of Accenture.
The device uses two cameras on the sides of a flat-panel display and combines video streams from both to obtain a realistic “reflection”.
However, the mirror is fed information from webcams and sensing devices around the house, which collect information on visits to the fridge, time slumped in front of the television or treadmill usage. Software analyses the data to determine diet and exercise patterns and then, at the touch of a button, the mirror reveals the ravages of time on the future you.
“It does create an impression, particularly when you see it for the first time,” said Dr Andr's del Valle. “Now we are trying to see if this can help prevent adolescents from becoming overweight.”
One female user described how she saw her face growing fat and “a horrible chin” appear before her eyes. “It was very, very powerful. The concept of computerised persuasion does indeed work.”
However, the team would prefer to use the mirror for encouragement, not punishment, said Dr Andr's del Valle.
The Persuasive Mirror can also be set up to show the consequences of too much time spent in the sun, or to calculate the benefits of data provided by devices such as a pedometer worn during a brisk walk or run.
Future variants will also calculate the effects of drinking, smoking or drug use.
“One of the key solutions experts identify for solving the growing problems caused by poor diet, including obesity, inactivity and smoking is a change in personal habits,” said Martin Illsley, director of the Sophia Antipolis facility.