No matter how many headlines you read about the fact that sitting in front of your computer is killing you, the chances are good that you still spend the workday stuck in a chair. Most of us don’t remember to take regular breaks or even sit up out of a caveman-like slump. A new seat cushion is designed to help change that: As you sit, the Darma Cushion detects even the smallest body movements and nudges you when you’re slouching, when you’ve been sitting too long, and even when it senses that you’re too stressed out.
“We all know the problems caused by sitting, but we don’t make changes,” says Junhao Hu, one of the creators of the cushion. In fact, the designers discovered that even getting reminders wasn’t enough on its own to make people change; in an early test, 80% of the people who were nudged to stand up stayed in their chairs. But the cushion adds another layer of feedback as extra motivation.
“I think people didn’t initially see the benefits of standing up,” Hu explains. “If people make a small change, it can have a big difference, but if they don’t see that, they don’t make the change. That’s why we also monitor your vitals in detail. That biofeedback shows people they’re making a difference.”
The cushion uses patent-pending sensors to measure heart rate and respiration along with movement, and then an app analyzes the data. If you’re extra stressed out, it suggests a meditation break, and then guides you through a minute-long exercise. If you’ve been glued to Netflix for hours, it will give you a gentle push and tell you to move around. If you have back pain, it gives you personalized directions for stretching.
Unlike wearable devices, the cushion can give more detailed measurements and feedback about sitting. The designers think it’s also easier to use, since it’s always there. “The efficient way to change behavior is to minimize the difficulty of making changes,” Hu says. “Using a cushion on a chair that’s already part of our office life reduces that difficulty.”
Eventually, Hu plans to work with manufacturers to embed the technology directly into chairs, sofas, and other furniture. A bed, for example, might track how well you’re sleeping, and turn the light out for you when you doze off.
They’ve started with the cushion, since that was easiest to produce, and are now raising funds on Kickstarter.