Back App Test: Stretch out please!

5. August 2013

"There's something wrong with my back" is also to be heard in Palo Alto, California. But instead of grumbling like some Victor Meldrew, Andrew Chang preferred to set up a company and produced LUMOback in order to correct bad posture electronically: Did his new tool prove itself in DocCheck Practice Test?

Andrew Chang knows what he is talking about: the Stanford graduate was tormented for a long time with back pain, which even gymnastics did little to change. In Germany many people know his suffering all too well. According to the report on the health of the back (TK-Rückenreport) four out of ten adults have the same difficulties. According to Chang our bad posture is the heart of the matter. In addition, the truth is that the human body was not actually designed for sitting activities, says his hypothesis.

Good posture – no pain

Together with Monisha Perkash and Dr. Charles Wang he found invention in necessity and set up LUMO Body Tech. The interdisciplinary team combines expertise from medicine and business as well as from mechanical engineering. Their idea: a small sensor is supposed to remind office workers, computer workers and frequent automobile drivers to carry themselves upright in life – meaning, to sit upright. By 2011 Chang’s team had already received an award for their idea from the DEMO startup Convention. They then estimated a requirement of $US 100,000 for development of the device. Users were enthusiastic, and the amount quickly arrived via crowdfunding on the platform Kickstarter. In the end there were even more than 200,000 US dollars available. After research and development the distribution phase now begins – a unit is priced at 149 US dollars. DocCheck tested the LUMObackBelt – here are some results.

Purist design, little information provided

After unpacking, at first look: the belt impresses with its puristic design. The sensor itself is just 8.5mm thick, and communicates via Bluetooth with smartphones and tablet computers. The enclosed booklet is certaintly a puristic addition as well – in-depth information cannot be extracted from this documentation. It states, to begin with as such, “charge the black belt via a USB cable“. How long? The question remains unanswered, the sensor itself has no status indicator. What’s more several demo videos make little sense at first, © LUMObackbecause without the active LUMOback nothing works. The next day, many a mystery dissolves into thin air.

130805_lumoback1© LUMOback

The app: somewhat bumpy

Whoever boasts their own iPad 3 or an iPhone 4S / 5 as a minimum is able to install the required application in the App Store. Mobile devices with other operating systems are not compatible with the black high-tech belt. According to Monisha Perkash, an Android type version should already exist this year, which will certainly greatly expand the circle of interested persons. Thanks to the matching device things now go even further: a personal user account can be quickly created using the app, parameters such as birth, height and weight are recorded. Finally, it is important to calibrate the sensor. Different patterns of posture, such as walking or sitting, can be detected. Through the whole process a funny avatar accompanies me which shows me from there on what the body posture is like. What actually sounds quite simple has in practice led to problems because LUMOback has recently released a new app and a firmware update is also required for the sensor. The software itself dropped out several times. LUMO Body Tech has to do some thorough reworking here.

The sensor: functional and innovative

Finally, the time has come to put LUMOback on – it is reminiscent of the chest strap of pulse measuring devices. The material itself is light and comfortable to wear. The sensor reacts immediately to poor posture on my part using vibrations as a reminder. This alarm is only triggered should I remain for several seconds in the unfavorable position. If – for whatever reason – no posture correction is possible, no further alarm goes off. Before important meetings, the vibration signal should be disabled so as not to draw astonished glances. Otherwise one can via the app set the strength at which the belt warns. The weakest setting appears to me to be unsuitable: If other stimuli are present, vibrations barely make themselves felt. Even without the alarm I get feedback: the app mercilessly lists all posture weaknesses and dispenses an evaluation to the calendar.

Moments of happiness after two days

While the device to begin with ends up speaking up quite frequently, posture corrections quickly become routine after 48 hours. My training success: The device vibrates much less frequently. With the warnings I soon automatically correct myself: Pavlov is still with us. My evaluations in the calendar improve as well. The app provides, alongside a stylised overview, further details for reviewing, such as a data break down by hours. Walking, sitting and lying make up the fundamental movement patterns covered by LUMOback – even at night data can be generated. Based on my posture the belt recognises sleep stages quite automatically. How long I spend lying on my back or on my side is nice to know but not very helpful. The device’s need for charging can also be picked up via the little program – so ultimately my new health monitor should not end up waning undetected.

130805_lumoback2© LUMOback

A plus for posture and fitness

The belt itself barely disturbs the carrier when wearing it even over several days. Only chairs with hard push-backs press sharply against the sensor and thus against the spine. And after exercise the skin does start to itch a little. There remains as an option removing LUMOback at night. And speaking of motion: The app also creates rich profiles for physical activity: running, walking, standing or sitting – the  corresponding percentage data can be generated from the profile. The pedometer is also useful for overcoming one’s weaker self. Anybody who leaves 1,700 steps per day behind them in at least ten-minute units reduces his or her risk of death by 12 percent, says the Centre for Health at the German Sport University Cologne. With 3,000 steps, this mortality rate can be reduced by 20 percent. Doctors at the Charité University of Medicine Berlin even recommend 10,000 steps a day. Measuring this is a clear added value of the device.

Good idea with potential for expansion and improvement

My conclusion: The high-tech belt helps in being consciously aware of one’s own postural weaknesses and to correct them. Initial successes occur relatively quickly, with bad habits appearing again after short breaks from carrying the device. With respect to the device itself it is clearly noticeable that it comes from the IT development community – in itself no problem, as long as tech-savvy “QuantifiedSelf” users work with it. LUMOback has not yet reached full development for the average person. It’s true though that the app offers incredible potential and is constantly evolving. In order to reach patients, it should run smoother. Also, $149 (around 110 Euro) is relatively speaking a lot of money for – as Andrew Chang hopes to reach – large sections of the population. I can only concur with the judgment of “Wired”: “Very good, but not great”.

10 rating(s) (3.8 ø)

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