A Pain in the Back
Chairless chair exoskeleton system
When people need to spend a long day at work standing on their feet, complaints of back pain and leg fatigue are extremely commonplace. In many cases sitting down at work is not possible, due to chairs getting in the way. The only option is to spend all day on your feet, which can be quite uncomfortable and wearing. This frequent and repetitive standing work can have a detrimental effect on concentration and performance, as well as physical fatigue. It can also result in worker complaints and more time taken off work, especially amongst older employees. Swiss start-up company, Noonee, has now developed a solution for relieving the strain on legs and backs that is both imaginative and simple – the chairless chair. Unlike other exoskeleton concepts, the batteries of the chairless chair are not limited to only lasting a few hours, but rather they can last several days. Compact, flat DC motors also play a part in the system’s design.
Substantial Support With Stamina
An exoskeleton (“exo” = external) is a supporting apparatus which is on the outside of the body, in contrast to an internal skeletal structure. We know of the natural version from crabs, insects, and other arthropods and artificial exoskeletons have been featured in science fiction and action films. In movies, these exoskeletons are imagined to be fighting machines that turn ordinary beings into invincible super heros. However, artificial exoskeletons have long since existed in reality, in different forms and for different purposes. They can provide assistance in cases where natural muscle power is inadequate, e.g. for lifting heavy components or working overhead with a bulky grinding machine for long periods. People with paraplegia can walk again with an exoskeleton, as was demonstrated in Brazil at the kick-off to the opening game of the football World Cup in 2014.
chairless chair by Noonee being tested at AudiThese real exoskeletons have two serious disadvantages: they are fairly heavy, usually significantly more than 20 kilograms, and their batteries last for little more than two hours. For these reasons alone, they are therefore far from capable of being used in everyday life.
Keith Gunura, CEO of Noonee, had researched exoskeletons before he established the start-up enterprise together with Olga Motovilova in Rüti, near Zürich. “We wanted to construct a supporting system that was extremely light and simple, did not run out of power during continuous operation, and also provided a solution to a wide range of everyday problems” Gunura explains.
In order to sit, the shock absorber element is locked by the FAULHABER micro DC motor, and the lock is released when walking. The seat inclination is infinitely variable. chairless chair diagram showing shock-absorber element and locking functionality
A Promise of Relief, For Workers and Management Alike
Gunura had his own experience of complaints caused by standing for long periods during a student job at a packing service provider in England. “Particularly older co-workers had problems, and I heard the concern of fatigued colleagues every evening”, he recalls. The two founders of Noonee discovered that management teams of major companies were also concerned about this problem by jumping into the deep end. During a workshop for start-up entrepreneurs at the Swiss Technical University in Zurich (ETH), one of the exercises involved calling potential customers and asking about their interest in a product. “The workshop leader dialed a number and handed us the receiver, saying that someone from one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world would answer the phone” explains Keith Gunura. Noonee chairless chair co-founders
To the surprise of both founders they were not met with skepticism, but rather with open doors, even though they didn’t even have a prototype yet. And when the first prototype failed during the demonstration, the automotive industry managers just wanted to know when the next attempt was taking place. “German companies in particular view demographic development and the increasing shortage of experts as a major strategic challenge” explains Keith Gunura about the major interest shown by potential customers. “They desperately wanted to do something to relieve the strain on their experts during production, and make it possible for employees to remain active for longer.”