LUMOback sensor nudges you to sit up straight

Credit: Alice Truong DVICE

You know how parents nag you to sit up straight? Mine never did. As a child, I was carefree, but as an adult, that disregard for structure has resulted in poor posture, neck pains and a weak back. LUMOback uses tactile feedback to buzz and nudge you into better posture throughout the workday, serving rather like a single-minded electronic parent. Designed to be worn like a belt, the sensor sits on your lower back and uses an app to analyze your posture over time.

By definition, LUMOback is a wearable tracker, but this is designated for the office — not, like the Fitbits and Ups of the world, something to be worn all day. However, with repeated exposure, LUMOback aims to instill better habits and increased awareness of posture, which is one of those things that you probably pay very little attention to despite its importance to your long-term health.

Getting started

In my experience, good posture has always been ephemeral. It was only a matter of time until my stature gave in, slumping as the day progressed, which is why LUMOback's visual and tactile feedback can be so helpful.

When using LUMOback ($149) for the first time, the app calibrated the device to my posture. A stick figure representation of myself corresponds to my positions and movements. I know I'm on the right track when the stick figure is smiling and green, less so when it's orange and looking a bit down. For the most part, Lumo nails it when gauging my position. However, there are times when it needs some help. I can fix the stick figure's posture using the app, and the sensor learns from these adjustments. There was also an instance when I had to recalibrate the device entirely. One afternoon, I noticed that the sensor was working overtime, buzzing me every few minutes when I was sitting straight (I swear!). Fixing LUMO's position on the app didn't stick, so a quick five-second recalibration solved the problem.

Using it

LUMOback isn't one of those wearable computers that eventually becomes an extension of yourself. For a device that's worn throughout the workday, the belt isn't necessarily obtrusive, but that doesn't mean it's not noticeable. The company says it will be updating the sensor with a new slimmer version in July. To be honest, I'd prefer to work without wearing LUMOback, but I strap on the device when I want to pay particular attention to my posture. Sometimes that's every weekday, sometimes that's once a week. I spoke with another user who had incorporated LUMOback as part of his standing desk setup (there's a setting specifically for that), and he told me that he dons the belt when working on easy problems and takes it off to focus when dealing with harder programming issues.

I can attest that LUMOback can be more distracting than helpful sometimes. While I spend most of my day sitting in an office chair, there are many instances where I'm bending over to shoot photos or pick up objects. The system has yet to learn that there plenty of times when one's back isn't straight for a perfectly good reason. When the intermittent buzzing doesn't let off, LUMOback serves more as a diversion than a useful reminder. It's like mom yelling at you to stand up straight when you need to pick up that load of laundry and bring it up the stairs. Subsequently, I've adjusted by taking off the belt during those instances.

The app is useful not just for the visual feedback, but also because of the analysis of previous LUMOback sessions. It breaks down activity into percentage of time spent running, walking, standing, and sitting. It also tracks your sleep positions, including whether you're lying on your left side, right side, back, or front. The app charts these positions throughout the day, and assigns a posture score for each day on a scale of 0 to 100, the latter being the best score. The company recommends aiming for a posture of 50 when getting started, which means sitting and standing properly about half the time. Achieving a score higher than that isn't necessarily difficult (I even got a perfect score once), but I do have off days where my numbers are in the 20s and 30s. Unsurprisingly, my back doesn't feel so great then.

Bottom line

Good posture has a significant impact on how people carry themselves. I feel more energetic and confident when sitting and standing tall, small and meek when slouching and slumping. The key to better posture is repetition — and yes, that entails a little bit of nagging. My parents might not have gotten through to me as a child, but now that I'm willing to put in the effort for the sake of my spine, LUMOback is a fantastic coach. Like a good coach, it can be overbearing and annoying at times, but it does so to push me to better myself. Over time, I'm hoping perfect posture will be second nature. That's when LUMOback will have done its job: when I don't need it anymore.

All images Alice Truong for DVICE.

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