For all you people with stiff backs and necks from too much time spent in front of screens, this is for you
A Kickstarter campaign out of South Korea believes that they have the answer to the neck and back pain caused by staring at our phones and laptops all day. They have developed a device that they are calling ALEX to help folks maintain better posture, sending vibrating reminders when it senses that the user’s posture is not where it should be.
Led by CEO Jonathan Kim, Dr. Youngjoon Chee, and Eugene Pae, their company is called NAMU, which means tree in Korean and is meant to signify that it will make your posture as straight as an oak. They are based out of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Ulsan where Chee is a professor.
Chee tells Geektime that he wants to solve a worldwide problem, especially for younger people who use smartphones and are always craning their necks at their phones. The crew at NAMU claim that 80% of office workers suffer from pain brought on by too much time in awkward screen positions.
The idea of creating a corrective device came from what the team calls “text neck,” which is brought on by the many hours spent in front of screens. Chee says that, “As a biomedical engineer, I wanted to solve this problem with another technology, like wearable sensors and posture analysis. So my team developed ALEX, the wearable posture tracker and coach.”
Development of the project began in the summer of 2014. ALEX uses a Tri-Axis motion sensor (accelerometer) to monitor the angle of the user’s neck to determine if they are in an unhealthy position for an extended period of time. If so, it sends a vibration alert to let the user correct their posture. It is built with a flexible frame to fit on the necks of users of all head sizes.
The battery is supposed to hold up for ten days, based on ten hours a day of usage.
The device connects through Bluetooth with an accompanying app that works on both iOS and Android devices to help users track their progress as they work towards better posture.
The final sale price has been set at $99. On Kickstarter, it’s now available for $59 after the $49 deal was sold out, with even those supplies nearly depleted as well. Manufactured in South Korea, they will be shipped to backers around the globe.
Surpassing expectations on Kickstarter
The campaign to fund the ALEX project kicked off on January 19 and has already surpassed the goal of $50,000, raising $60,732 with six days left from 781 backers.
Chee says that more than 60% of their backers are from North America, Australia, and the Netherlands. He says that this is because these are places with a high frequency of problems with posture and are comfortable with the English on the Kickstarter page. Chee says that language can be a limiting factor of platforms like Kickstarter for places like South Korea and China, where fluency in English is far less prominent.
Plans for the future
After the campaign, Chee says that they are looking for a distributer in every country, with the U.S. and Canada first and then Europe. He explains that these markets are more interested in problems with posture since they understand how important it is. Over the long term, he thinks that they will sell the device through an online store as well.
In the nearer term, they are planning an appearance at the Mobile World Congress in February.
But for now, with the cash raised, they will focus on producing the devices for their estimated delivery date in May.
As a person who spends an inordinate amount of time bent over my laptop or scrolling through my phone, I can easily identify with the need to correct our poorly learned behaviors like bad posture.
While not personally much of a wearable person, I see this device as being a great investment for companies looking to do right by their employees and create a healthier work environment.
Perhaps not as strenuous on the body as more blue collar physical labor, there are quite a number of health risks associated with office work and technology. A recent study from the Technion in Haifa showed that men who speak on mobile phones for more than an hour a day double their risk of lowering their sperm count. Add to this the dangers of sitting too much vastly increasing the risk of heart attacks and other life threatening conditions, and farm work starts to look a whole lot more appealing.
It is far too easy to get sucked into our screens without coming up for a breather, and we forget to go for a short walk or merely readjust our eyes to natural light. Hopefully ALEX can serve as a reminder and help make us just a little bit healthier.