Push notifications drawing attention to the way you’re slouching at your desk – potentially causing long-term damage – could be an effective way of reducing workplace injuries, German researchers believe.

Whether bending over a workbench to assemble components, swivelling to lift heavy crates onto shelves or just leaning back while quickly writing an email, most people don’t pay enough attention to moving smoothly or maintaining an ergonomically correct posture. The consequences can be significant, though. A 2017 survey found that around one in five German workers reported suffering from back pain several times a year, and 14 percent several times a month.

Engineers at TU Kaiserslautern and the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) have developed a system that uses sensors incorporated in normal clothing and footwear to gather data in real time from the wearer’s arms, legs and back in real time related to acceleration and angular velocity. This is processed by software to work out motion parameters such as joint angles or the degree of flexion or twisting of the spine.

If it recognises that a movement or posture could be damaging it immediately sends an alert to the user’s smartwatch.

The research is part of the EU BIONIC project, a collaboration between researchers in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Greece.

Although the team behind the system acknowledge it will be some time before a commercial version is available, they will be demonstrating a prototype at this year’s IFA International Consumer Electronics Fair in Berlin from 6 to 11 September.

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