Seat design supports posture

Technology designed to adaptively support posture could help children with severe dyspraxia, improve drivers’ road skills and reduce falls among the elderly.

This is the hope of engineers and psychologists at Leeds University, who are researching the way posture affects the motor skills of children and adults.

Their research could facilitate the development of robotic classroom chairs that help dyspraxic children remain secure in their seat, high-tech car seats designed to alert drivers not sitting in the optimal driving position, or wearable sensors that caution elderly people making unstable movements.

Mark Mon-Williams, a professor of cognitive psychology at Leeds, said the initial focus will be on children with more extreme forms of dyspraxia.

’If you sit a child with this disorder in a seat, they will tip over if they’re not paying attention,’ he said. ’If they’re spending all their time trying not to fall out of their chair, that’s less time for them to concentrate on what the teacher is writing on a blackboard.’

The Leeds team propose a chair built with inertial sensors and pneumatically driven motors that could sense the position of a child and automatically adjust them if they are tipping too far in one direction.

Mon-Williams said posture control will not only help a child stay in his or her seat, it will also have the potential to improve essential motor skills, such as handwriting.

The Leeds team will test the effects of adaptive postural support with volunteer children. The children will be asked to sit in a chair and their posture will be closely monitored as they are asked to perform tasks, such as tracing shapes using a stylus on a specially equipped Toshiba tablet-screen laptop.

Mon-Williams said the laptop will allow the team to follow the tip of the child’s pen to determine measurements, such as accuracy, speed and smoothness of the movements.

The Leeds team are working with James Leckey Design, a manufacturer of chairs built specially for children with severe disabilities, such as cerebral palsy.

The results of the research will be taken on by James Leckey Design for product development.

Siobhan Wagner