Back Straight Boys want to fix your bad posture

After winning $25,000 in a contest for budding scientists, four teens are looking to patent their "Posture Pad" to help ailing computer users adopt healthier habits at their workstations.

A prototype of the Posture Pad photographed during the product development phase at UC San Diego. The Netbook displays visual feedback--green indicates good positioning in a given area, while red tells users they need to adjust their stance. Back Straight Boys

Baby, it's the way you make me kinda get me sit straightly, never wanna stop.

The Back Straight Boys aren't singing that tune yet, but they probably should be. The teenagers did, after all, name themselves after the boy band Backstreet Boys. But instead of targeting screaming teens, they're targeting screaming adults--screaming in pain, that is--with a device that aims to prevent poor workstation posture by monitoring wearers' stance and training them to correct it when needed.

Sean Colford, Ethan Epstein, Brandon Loye, and Michael Walsh, all of San Diego and just out of their freshman year of high school, came up with the idea for Posture Pad back in middle school after experiencing firsthand the discomfort computer use can cause.

"We noticed that at school, all the computer workstations were the same size, but Ethan and I had a 15-inch difference in height," Loye said. "I had to hunch my back to see the monitor, and Ethan had to sit on his legs. This caused us discomfort, and we thought we could do something about it."

So the longtime pals decided to delve deep into improper posture at computer workstations and the consequent musculoskeletal problems it can cause among kids and adults in classrooms and offices.

Many hours of research spawned the "Posture Pad," which strategically embeds sensors and microcomputers in an ergonomically designed seat pad to gauge a computer user's positioning and connects to the user's computer to deliver visual and/or audio feedback via special software.

The invention netted the boys a $25,000 development grant in the 2009 Christopher Columbus Awards competition, a science, technology, engineering, and math program that challenges middle-school students to identify a community problem and solve it using science and technology.

Since then (in between basketball, ultimate frisbee, snowboarding, tae kwon do, and soccer) the young inventors have refined their early prototype, which relied on on/off switches, rather than sensors, placed in the seat pad. Failure to sit in the proper position would trip the switches, causing either a vibration or audio tone to go off. The feedback would stop once the posture got corrected.

The Back Straight Boys of San Diego have made good computer workstation posture their crusade. Pictured at the 2010 SITE (Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education) conference, they are (from left) Michael Walsh, Ethan Epstein, Sean Colford, and Brandon Loye. Back Straight Boys

 

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