Altwork Station: the 21st Century Workstation

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Forget Standing Desks: Are You Ready to Lie Down and Work?.

It’s a fancy desk that lets you sit up, recline, or fully lie down as you work at your computer, holding your computer’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse in place with some extra strength magnets.

A Californian start-up has revealed a new workstation that can allow its users to continue working at their desk – even while in a reclining position.After trying out the $5,900 Altwork Station, one thought immediately comes to mind: boycott work until you’re issued one of these babies.Altwork Station is a combination standing desk and fully automated recliner for work.

The posh chair costs $5,900 (£3,865) which is pretty pricey, but it does have all kinds of special features and is customisable to allow users to adjust their chair-desk to the perfect position. The Altwork Station, purportedly designed for “high-intensity” computer users, will retail in its initial run for approximately $5490 (AUD), before transitioning to a hefty regular price tag of $8305 (AUD). Plus, it’s a whole lot more grownup than our current default working-from-home position, which involves stacks of pillows, neck strain, and a precariously balanced cup of tea.

You try to avoid the couch and bed, but at some point, you will end up in that all-too-familiar position: on your back, knees bent, supporting a laptop somewhat precariously above your face, the heat from the processors gently burning your thighs. While some users have been quick to dismiss the Station – one calling it “tech-fetishist garbage” – others have expressed admiration for Altwork’s pioneering design. While the standing desk has become a staple in homes and offices, this ergonomic revolution hasn’t given us an acceptable way to recline flat and still be able to work. Although designed primarily for hardcore computer coders, Altwork Station should prove a productive oasis for anyone who has to spend hours on end tethered to a desktop computer, says Altwork co-founder and CEO Che Voight. “It you can use a tablet for your job then you’re not our audience, but everyone else is,” says Voight, whose company launched with a million-dollar-seed round led by North Bay Angels, which funds ventures north of Silicon Valley.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly calling sitting “the new cancer,” a caveat used to promote Apple Watch’s stand-up reminder feature and one that no doubt has helped fuel sales of standup desks that typically run in the $500 range. But when a recent study by researchers at Swiss university ETH Zurich warned that prolonged standing could lead to significant back problems, Voight realized he was on the right track with a device that could easily morph from standing to sitting many times over the course of a computer-focused day. No, USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava isn’t at the dentist office, he’s demoing a $5,900 work station by AltWork in San Francisco. (Photo: Theresa Chong, for USA TODAY) Initial Altwork prototypes featured just three or four standard settings that a consumer could choose from, but focus groups quickly revealed that the chair would increase its chances of success if it provided an infinite number of positions. “Maybe not surprisingly, it turns out that different people have different ideas of what is most comfortable for them,” Voight says. “What’s really interesting is that when people get in a reclined state, they seem to be more focused on their work. And somehow that position also telegraphs to others that you’re busy and shouldn’t be bothered.” The biggest challenge in creating the workstation was finding a way to minimize the use of electronic actuators, which over time can cause maintenance trouble spots. Altwork’s chair was parked at a coworking building in downtown San Francisco, in a back room under a sheet, so passersby don’t get an early look at it. (I can only wonder what they think is underneath that cover every time they glance inside the room.) Unveiled, it sort of looks like the chair in your dentist’s office: a mechanized assembly with plenty of head support and with a swiveling desk attached.

While initially he thought a chair and desk with this range of motion would require more than a dozen actuators, his design team eventually got that number down to four, anchored to an ingenious network of cams. In order to keep your keyboard, mouse, and mousepad from flying down at your face while the desk portion is situated above you, Altwork’s design uses magnets. Off to the far left of the tray are a discreet series of tabs, akin to press-and-hold buttons you might find attached to a seat in a vehicle or aircraft. The origin of Altwork—which has been in stealth mode for half a decade—didn’t come from a desire to secure our sloth-like selves into Wall-E-esque pods.

After a few prototypes (the unsuccessful first attempt was scrapped for parts, and everyone laughs when it’s mentioned—that’s how bad it was), Altwork went to an ergonomic firm to test the design. “When I went to pick it up, I asked him, ‘So what’d you think?’” says Voigt. “And he just goes, ‘We’re really going to miss this.’” From there, Altwork starting working with designers and artists to turn something inherently cumbersome into something sleek and office-appropriate. Sure, it is a giant, mechanized chair-bed-desk combo, but it’s nothing like its competiton, which are mostly La-Z-Boys with desks and computers attached. Che (left) and Cairenn Voight sitting on a ‘Simpsons’ couch sculpture the couple made; Che is the CEO of Altwork, which makes a $5,900 high-tech workstation for high-tech workers. (Photo: Courtesy of Che Voight) Voight doesn’t expect that a product with this sort of price tag will suddenly dominate offices.

But he does hope that tech companies, architecture firms, computer assisted design outfits and other such operations will consider buying a few Altwork Stations and allocate them as needed to employees who are faced with long spells of highly focused computer time. “When you think about all the advancements technology has brought us over time, it’s amazing to think that in terms of ergonomics we’re still back in the early 20th century, with people hunched over at desks,” says Voight. “There are better ways to work more productively and more creatively.” We are looking at CAD engineers, financial traders, animators, technical writers,” says Voigt. “I feel like the high-intensity computer user is undervalued. Those are the people who, if their project gets done a little bit sooner, that’s a big deal.” Altwork certainly seems like it would make you focus. If you work from home full-time and are constantly at a computer (and either you or your employer has several thousand dollars to spare), there’s a place for it. However Altwork ends up making its way into the office of the future, Voigt knows that he‘s not going back. “That was one of the upsides,” he says. “As we were developing this and writing more and more personal checks, we said, ‘Well, at least we’ll get two workstations out of this if it all goes badly!”

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