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Seating gets smart

Can sensors that monitor a sitter’s posture and work patterns improve well-being in the workplace? Tayla Ansell looks at what’s available

Smart solutions
Smart solutions

In its white paper, Enabling the Organic Workspace: Emerging Technologies that Focus on People, Not Just Space, furniture manufacturer Haworth argues that by gathering information on environmental conditions and monitoring the physical, emotional and cognitive state of employees, sensors have the potential to improve employee engagement and well-being.

A technology-based approach to well-being might sound futuristic, but sensors are already being used in seating to counter the health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

Smart Active sensors within Nomique and BMA’s Axia 2 seating range, for example, monitor sitters’ movements, sitting time and posture changes and, via a free Android/iOS smartphone app, provide feedback and advice to encourage activity throughout the day. If someone has been in one position for too long, the seat vibrates, reminding them to change posture.

The Axia Smart Active app provides additional advice, including tips on healthy working habits, such as moving around more, working while standing up, rolling one’s shoulders and stretching.

Sensor stool

Sensor Stool
Sensor Stool

Dutch start-up Zami Life is another company exploring how technology can be used to encourage active sitting. After raising more than $100,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo in 2015, it has developed a ‘smart’ version of its Zami Essential stool, originally developed to promote “good posture by enabling the optimal curve for your spine and neutral pelvis position”.

The ‘Smart’ version has integrated pressure sensors in each leg. These monitor the sitter’s weight distribution and posture and transmit details by Bluetooth to an accompanying app that advises the sitter how to correct their posture; provides information on time spent sitting and behaviour during sitting (e.g. fdgeting); and suggests exercises.

Occupancy insight

Some businesses already use sensors within furniture to collect data for the purposes of facilities management and office design, e.g. to determine how often chairs are occupied. The OfficeIQ connected office solution takes product utilisation data and uses it to improve ergonomics as well.

Robert King, Founder & CEO, Humanscale
Robert King, Founder & CEO, Humanscale

Developed by Humanscale in collaboration with Tome Software, it incorporates sensor technology into height adjustable workstations and task chairs to monitor usage and gather data on sit/stand use. The lightweight box positioned on or under the work surface also calculates calorific expenditure and can give users real-time feedback on their activity at workstations.

OfficeIQ gamifies the experience providing individuals with activity scores in the expectation that an element of competition will encourage users to increase physical activity in the pursuit of a new personal best or to beat their colleagues.

At CES 2017, Humanscale and Tome took this to the next level by integrating OfficeIQ with wearables so that users can combine data collected at their workstation with data recorded by a wearable fitness device (e.g. Fitbit), giving them a complete overview of daily activity.

Smart cushion

Another smart sitting option, the Darma smart cushion (above), monitors heart and breathing rates as well as sitting habits. In addition to poor posture alerts, guidance on stretching and reminders to take breaks, it detects when stress levels are too high and recommends breathing exercises to aid relaxation.

At NeoCon 2015, furniture manufacturer Steelcase introduced a Gesture chair concept with integrated smart cushion technology provided by Darma. Although not yet available, the intelligent chair suggests how seating might evolve in the future as organisations aim to improve the health and well-being of employees.

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