Seattle area mobile app developers Robert Mao and Haitao Li had no real intention of building a new application when they traveled to SXSW earlier this month. But after stumbling upon the AT&T Mobile App Hackathon and checking out the free grub on the buffet table, the former Microsofties and founders of Discoverful decided to toss their coding chops into the ring.

Good thing they did. Mao and Li ended up winning the competition, one of the few teams that successfully deployed a working prototype. The event was built around the idea of mobile health, with coders encouraged to use the FitBit personal tracking data made available through the AT&T Developer Center.

Mao and Li’s idea? The developers created a fitness app that encourages people to walk by having them adopt virtual pets to care for, including taking the virtual pet for a walk.

“The more workouts you are doing, the happier the pet will be,” Mao tells GeekWire. If you are not getting to the gym or out on a run, the pet can get sick and eventually die.

Given how much Americans love their pets, even their virtual ones, this could be the solution to the obesity crisis in the U.S.

The app is not yet deployed in any app store, and Mao said they are not sure if they will actually push it into full production. After all, they’ve got their hands full with Discoverful, a mobile photo app similar to Trover and Instagram.

But Mao said he was still happy to have participated in the event, saying it helped refine some ideas for their current service. “We got a lot of great feedback,” he said.

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  • Cybernella

    Mmmm… This is kind of exagerated: “this could be the solution to the obesity crisis in the U.S.”, don’t you think?

  • Olive

    This looks like a great app.  I would buy it if it became available!

    • Robert Mao

      Thanks Olive. 

  • Mike Mathieu

    Congrats guys. Shows the power of meeting your launch deadline!

    • Robert Mao

      Thanks Mike. Yes, it’s fun but a challenging competition esp. in the setting of SXSW.

  • Kyle Kesterson

    I think I’ve heard of the this idea before… Although we called it Running Usain Bolt and Raising Uncle Jesse. 

    Congrats to Robert! Glad somebody finally made it come to life. :D

    • Robert Mao

      Thanks Kyle!

  • @stempm

    Love it! Robert, before you figure out how to monetize Discoverful, get this app out there – make some cash. I think it has some serious viralability. The dog is super cute! :)

  • facebook-578594049

    These guys only won the mHealth 1st prize. Team BoogieUp won the main hackathon first prize.

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