Back in 2014, we looked at Noonee's Chairless Chair, a wearable seat aimed at workers who are on their feet all day with nary a place to sit down. A prototype at the time, the Chairless Chair has moved into production and has been put to use at major companies like Daimler and Audi. At the recent Wearable Technologies Munich conference, we had the chance to chat with Noonee about its finished product and try our hand (or, we suppose, ass) at wearing an exoskeleton-like chair around.
Our favorite part about the annual Wearable Technologies Conference is how it broadens our perception of the world of wearables. With the ISPO sports show going on right next door, we're always expecting a heap of fitness, health and sports-tracking wearables, and indeed the conference has it. But there are also a few gizmos and devices we never would have dreamed up, a full-body inflatable safety bubble one year, a wearable chair another.
According to Noonee, Germany's employee population is aging in a hurry, with the number of 50+ year-old employees set to double by 2021 from where it was in 2011. Its research also shows that sick days increase right along with age, threatening a measurable drop in workforce productivity. One driver of those sick days: muscle tissue and skeletal problems.
So what to do? Noonee offers a more humane solution than kicking the older generation out the door and replacing it with a younger, healthier, lower-paid, harder-worked workforce – equipping today's aging workers with a convenient place to sit down and rest their weary muscles and bones.
Noonee believes its Chairless Chair presents a cost-effective way of addressing work-related muscular and skeletal issues, without requiring any dramatic upgrades to factory floors (read: no major company cash outlay ). By helping to decrease physical strain, the chair promotes better health, decreased sick days and increased productivity. Or that's how the theory works, at least.
The new Chairless Chair definitely looks much more a polished product than it did in 2014. It's a fairly straightforward piece of biomimicry secured via a waist belt, stirrups and thigh straps. The split plastic frame mirrors the basic contours of the back of the leg and bends and moves with the wearer while a polyester seat rests under the wearer's backside. When the user feels the need for a sit, he positions himself accordingly and relies on the switchable lock to secure the frame in place, creating an effective seat that supports his weight. The 2014 prototype used a battery powered electro-mechanical system, but that has since been simplified to a purely mechanical design.
The Chairless Chair goes on easily within a minute or two, a simple matter of getting everything positioned and securing the straps. Various size adjustments are also available to personalize fit.
Once on, the Chairless Chair is not nearly as restrictive as we expected and walks along pretty smoothly. You wouldn't want to scramble up a steep mountainside or walk a 5K with it, but it feels like it would be free and comfortable enough for wearing within a compact work area, even though at 7.5 lb (3.4 kg), it weighs well more than the 2014 prototype.
The positioning of sitting takes a little work, and I had the benefit of a company rep helping me get it just right, but once you've dialled it in, it's a comfortable way of taking the load off.
The rep was also quite helpful in spotting me so I didn't flip ass over teakettle, which I gather can happen if you get too comfy and lean too far back. But that's why Noonee doesn't just sell customers a Chairless Chair over the countertop. It sells directly to businesses for employee use, and it includes training with the product, teaching a specific staff member who in turn becomes the point of contact for company employees using the chairs. So presumably folks will get enough training ahead of time as not to be flipping ass over teakettle up and down production lines.
As someone who has the exact opposite problem of the one for which the Chairless Chair was designed (i.e. I spend too much of the workday sitting at a desk), the Chairless Chair wasn't a product that spoke directly to me. Those times that I do spend all day on my feet, as in walking trade show floors, a wearable chair would absolutely be more trouble than it's worth due to the distance and amount of walking involved – it wasn't restrictive for walking a short distance around Noonee's booth, but it certainly isn't designed for walking up and down large show halls. And I'm not restricted from finding a chair or otherwise taking a break, anyway.
The Chairless Chair does seem like it could work quite well for the workers for whom it was designed, though. It's more compact than a physical chair, not overly heavy or restrictive, and ever-available for a quick break or to take the strain out of crouching. Whether or not it actively promotes health and productivity enough to justify the investment is something that Noonee's customers will surely ascertain for themselves over time.
Noonee began production in Spring 2017 (Northern Hemisphere). At Wearable Technologies last month, it told us it had sold about 350 units so far. It did not offer a price since it sells directly to businesses, and pricing varies based on volume and contract terms.
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