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Virtual life coaches needed

Better study habits, weight loss and the iron discipline to train for the marathon could be yours for the price of a few messages over your cell phone.

A German research institute is working on a virtual life coach which sends messages to your cell phone to help you achieve your goals at a fraction of the cost of the real thing.

The "eCoach", which is under development by the Fraunhofer Institute for Communications Systems in Munich, can be designed to wake you with a happy song and an inspirational message.

"What a wonderful morning! It's time to put on your running shoes and go for a jog around the park," is a typical message example on the Fraunhofer Web site.

Fraunhofer Institute spokeswoman Susanne Baumer said on Wednesday that the "eCoach" can be tailored to meet the goals of individuals or the needs of organizations.

"For example, if I am a university and I want to help my final years (students) to study for their exams, then the messages could be something like...'60 percent of your fellow students have already read chapter 74. You have not.'"

She said the system will be programmed to react to the user's progress. If they fall behind on their goals, more motivation will be sent.

This means that the system relies on the honesty of the user about their progress but Baumer says that's not a worry.

"I don't think that's really a problem because the person who uses this system wants to learn something, and so (not being honest: Quote, Profile, Research) is like betraying yourself," she said.

The system can also be a useful tool for motivating individuals in a group because it allows group members to send each other wake-up calls and multi-media messages like a film of a member achieving a goal, Baumer said.

"It's important because (for example: Quote, Profile, Research) with eLearning, the problem is not with understanding the material, but getting the motivation to work on it."

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