Is A Low Cost Hack To Stop Slouching At The Desk

If you saw someone pushing an office chair through New York’s financial district this weekend chances are it was this guy: developer Joe Heenan, who’s just shown off a neat hardware hack aimed at improving office workers’ posture here at the Disrupt NY Hackathon. He says he eventually convinced an Uber to take him and the chair to the Manhattan Centre — after some “negotiation” — so he could get to work on the hack.

Heenan’s hack combines a Texas Instruments Bluetooth Low Energy sensor (which costs $20 to $30) attached to the back of an office chair with velcro, and an adhesive magnetic rubber strip (costing $1-$2) that’s stuck to the back of the wearer’s belt. The TI sensor detects the distance and angle of the magnetic strip on the belt to calculate whether the wearer is slouching or sitting up nice and straight.

The app then uses that data to keep track of the wearer’s posture score — encouraging them to sit better/slouch less.

“I look at the sum of square distances between different magnetometer positions,” explains Heenan. “So basically your belt is a magnet and the sensor tag measures magnetic fields. And when you lean over, or you slouch, you’re basically increasing the distance to the magnet. I can tell the angle as well.

“Your goal is to keep your posture score as close to 100 as possible.”

As well as displaying a large graphic of the user’s posture (and their posture score) within the app, integrates with the menu bar to display a more discreet reminder of how you’re currently sitting. “The idea is you don’t want something big and in your face, you just want a little status icon of how you’re doing over the course of the day,” adds Heenan.

He says the idea for the hack came to him after some office posture-related health troubles he suffered recently.

“About a year ago I had to see a doctor because I was typing too much and I was getting hand injuries, and I looked at a lot of different software but it was all very intrusive. I wanted something that would let me keep my flow when coding… I wanted something low cost, easy to use and I found it to be quite robust.”

A secondary component of the hack involves using the Leap Motion gesture controller to direct the user to perform atypical hand exercises which are designed to relieve the damaging repetition of typing. Performing a series of hand passes over the controller increases the user’s posture score.

“I took some of those exercises from the hand therapy exercises I learnt when I was recovering from the RSI injury,” he notes. “Bad posture increases your risk of repetitive strain injury.” can push exercise reminder notifications to the Pebble smartwatch. It can also generate an Outlook calendar reminder for the user to perform micro exercises if a user’s score looks bad enough.

“My goal is to keep it as unobtrusive as possible, but if you’re being really bad it just puts something on your calendar so you have to do a stretch.”

There are a few wearable products aimed at improving officer workers’ posture — such as Lumo Lift — but Heenan says he wanted something less visible and intrusive, that doesn’t require something to be clipped onto your clothes. “I’ve tried a lot of the different other products and just found nothing [I liked],” he adds. “I have my belt on almost every day so it’s nothing to change.”

Heenan, who works for a New York-based startup called Segovia (a digital platform for NGOs to provide direct cash transfer programs to the extreme poor) during the day, was attending his first ever hackathon. “This was my one weekend free. My wife had the baby — I got to go do something fun.”