Researchers have created a prototype armchair designed to take care of the elderly by giving them health and fitness advice ... and even a workout. Developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) in Germany, the GEWOS (Gesund Wohnen Mit Stil or Healthy Living With Style) armchair looks like an ordinary, comfortable chair. The difference is that it contains sensors built into the seat cushions, backrest and armrest that measure the heartbeat and oxygen saturation of the seated person, along with an integrated rowing machine that can get you exercising on the spot.

Sven Feilner, from the Image Processing and Medical Technology Department at IIS, says that using the GEWOS “fitness assistant” is simple – just sit down, relax and put your hands on the sensors.

“The sensors are integrated into the chair,’’ Feilner says. "You just have to lay down your hands on the armchair and you will get the data of ECG, heart rate or oxygen saturation.”

“It has single pressure sensors in it, four in the backrest, and four in the seat, so you can also detect the right posture. If you are not sitting properly, it will show you how to sit in a healthier position.”

A tablet attached to the chair wirelessly transmits data on pulse rate, blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure and weight to a TV so trends can be viewed over time. There's also a "virtual health assistant" which analyzes the data and suggests tailored exercise plans.

“The fitness assistant gets all the data from the chair and the person sitting there so it can figure if there are any problems,’’ Feilner says. “It can motivate them to exercise rowing using the in-built machine, or go out and take a walk around the block.”

Feilner says the chair, which took three and a half years to develop and is funded by the Geman Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), was specifically designed for senior citizens to keep them active and healthy in their own homes, prevent disease and monitor health.

“It has the function of primary prevention and it also motivates them to do more exercises,’’ he says. ”Senior citizens should be able to get around independently in their own four walls as long as possible. For that to succeed they have to stay healthy. The exercise armchair gives them an easy and motivating way to stay fit.“

Feilner told us that the chair was a hit when it was tested at the Altersgerechte Assistenzsysteme (Ambient Assisted Living – AAL) conference in Berlin last year – 100 senior citizens tried it out and preferred it over 15 other devices.

Researchers are continuing to fine-tune the capabilities of the fitness assistant chair. “It needs further work,’’ Feilner says. “The next step will be an evaluation with the elderly so that they can test it in normal circumstances and we can figure out if there is anything we have forgotten and identify any problems.”

The project involves six partners including German furniture company Himolla, the Munich University of Technology and Innovationsmanufaktur, a consultancy which works with companies innovating in the health sector.

According to Feilner Himolla will play a key role in deciding what happens next with the chair. “We have a really good prototype, but we have to wait for the evaluation and then Himolla will decide if they bring it to market. They would choose which sensors they need for the market and it may become available next year or in 2015.”

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