Palo Alto-based company creates device to improve posture


If you sit at your desk for eight hours a day, chances are you slouch once in a while. But if consistently bad posture is leading to back pain or other issues you might need some help to straighten up your act.

Lumo is an avatar and posture coach at the heart of an app-based system developed by Palo Alto-based LUMOback. It employs a wireless sensor built into a flexible waist belt.

As you move, the sensors transmit information about your posture and body position directly to an iPhone. And if the message isn't good, the device answers back.

"And so if Colton starts slouching in his chair Lumo knows that and he gets sad and Colton gets a little vibration pulse," Co-Founder Andrew Chang said.

The vibration isn't painful or even uncomfortable according to Chang. He says it's designed to coax the wearer into straightening his or her posture over time. Something like a nagging personal trainer, who's always on the case.

"What we're trying to do there is we're trying to stimulate those muscles and we're trying to say 'hey, hey, hey, you should be sitting in a different position,'" Chang said.

Chang says he was inspired to develop the product because of his own struggles with back pain. And while he admits it's not a cure in itself, he says correcting posture is one of the common recommendations for many patients.

LUMOback enters a growing field of app-based health and fitness coaches, such as Fit Bug and Fit Bit, which track everything from calories and heart rate to hours spent exercising.

"I put it on my participants and I got a lot of feedback from them," Carstensen Life-span Development Laboratory researcher Mary Rosenberger said.

Rosenberger studied the effectiveness of app-based feedback devices, including LUMOback and says they all have plusses but, suffer from the same basic challenge.

"There is a fatigue factor with all of these devices and so about two months into it is the general time frame," Rosenberger said. "People get tired and they get fatigued with looking at their numbers."

But Rosenberger says clients who do stick with the program for roughly a year can change ingrained habits. In the case of LUMOback Chang says the strategy is to correct posture-related pain and other problems by retraining the body.

"Overtime people will be building muscle memory to sit better and to stand better over time and eventually they wouldn't even have to use the LUMOback," Chang said.

The device also tracks sleeping position and hours spent standing and walking. And like the slouch alarm it can be programmed to nudge wearers to simply stand up once in a while and give their posture a break.

The LUMOback device retails for about $150. It currently runs on the iPhone with an Android version coming soon.

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