Origami helps prevent back pain

Sandra Loyd

The harmful effects of computer work have long been known: staring at the monitor does not blink enough and can cause dryness, inflammation of the eyes, and spasmodic, stiff posture can lead to spinal disorders. Many millions in Europe suffer from neck and back pain that could be prevented with a little exercise. A useful little development can help with this problem: a sensor that warns you if you stay still for too long.

Developed by a research team at City University of Hong Kong, the neck sensor is based on piezoelectricity: this is generated by the compression or other use of energy materials. Scientists have folded from two layers of piezoelectric material the origami-like structure that deforms as a result of motion and sends a charge to a microcontroller that can register motion with 95 percent accuracy and send the result to a computer. If the wearer does not move his neck or shoulders at least ten times every half hour, a warning message will appear on the screen.

The tiny sensor is easy to place on the body and is excellent for measuring inactivity. Researchers have already patented the technology, so there’s a good chance that the motion sensor will soon leave the walls of the lab and become an integral part of our telecommuting lives.

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