Bad habits are hard to break. A bad habit that far too many of us share is having bad posture. Whether it is spending the day hunched over a keyboard, slumping our shoulders, or lifting with our legs, bad posture takes a toll on a body over the years. Slouching, for example, gradually weakens the spine and can make it more injury-prone over the years. Moving in unhealthy ways often leads to neck, back, and shoulder pain. Research even suggests that there may be links between bad posture and certain mental health conditions.
The reasons why we should improve our posture are apparent, but the way to achieve that goal can be elusive. Throughout the course of the day, it is very easy to fall into our usual habits as we get busy with life and forget to remind ourselves to sit up straight. A team led by researchers at the Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems has designed a new tool that may provide the cues we need to make lasting changes for the better in our posture. They have designed a fabric that can be knitted into clothing, that when paired with machine learning, can analyze the wearer’s posture and provide feedback in real-time.
The fabric incorporates triboelectric nanogenerators, which generate electricity through movement. That electricity is sufficient to power a series of sensors embedded in the fabric, specifically positioned along the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and the lumbar spine — the areas most critical in understanding posture. The measurements from these sensors are captured and fed into a machine learning pipeline for interpretation.
The team knitted a vest with their special fabric, and designed a random forest classifier to interpret the sensor data it produces. The system was able to accurately classify the posture of the wearer 96.6% of the time. When poor posture is detected, a notification can be generated that will remind the wearer of the vest to correct the problem. In this way, keeping up good posture can be kept at the forefront of one’s mind.
The fabric is comfortable, stretchable, and breathable, so it is reasonable to wear on a daily basis. This is particularly good news for those of us with sedentary desk jobs, where most of our time is spent sitting, and it is very easy to slip into bad sitting habits. Just by choosing the right shirt we may be able to improve our health, eliminate nagging pains, and even function better mentally.Monitoring posture with machine learning (📷: Y. Jiang et al.)