07/20/2016 by Bielefeld University


Researchers at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) of Bielefeld University are developing an active chair as part of the KogniHome research project. At first glance, the chair looks just like another other reclining chair with a footrest you would find in any living room. But upon closer inspection, the chair is connected to a virtual avatar and has all manner of technical refinements.

The chair can be adjusted for each individual member of the family and can react to, for instance, a person’s physical condition and the time of the day. The virtual avatar leads family members to perform fitness exercises in the chair, and in the future, this avatar will also give feedback on healthy posture. In addition to this, the chair will unobtrusively measure respiration and heart rate, allowing it to monitor all important physical parameters during exercise. This information will also be used for specific relaxation exercises done in the chair.

“The personal trainer can be used for relaxation but also as a comfortable reclining chair for watching TV, as it has all the functionality of a normal chair,” said Professor Dr. Thomas Schack, who heads the personal trainer subproject together with Dr. Ulrich Rückert for the Cluster of Innovation KogniHome. “The personal trainer can also assist the user in performing fitness exercises both correctly and in a way that is gentle on the joints. The trainer’s program includes various yoga and fitness exercises, as well as instruction in strength building.”

For the personal trainer, the researchers looked to the SonicChair, which was developed by Dr. Thomas Hermann with the Ambient Intelligence research group. Using an audio signal, the SonicChair alerts a worker when he or she has not changed their position in a long time. The chair measures a person’s sitting position with sensors that are integrated into the surface of the seat.

The personal trainer can recognize each individual member of the family via smartphone or smartwatch. It assists elderly or physically challenged people to sit down or stand up by raising or lowering the chair. It has integrated force sensors that measure how weight is distributed in the chair. Playful movement activities allow the back and stomach, for instance, to be strengthened.

All exercises are led by a virtual avatar that appears on a display on the wall. The virtual coach also encourages exercise outside of the chair and thus enables exercise training within the apartment. With the help of the virtual personal trainer, all areas of the body can be effectively exercised.

“It is important to us that the coach does not intervene in the training in a domineering way, but rather assists and motivates the user. Accordingly, the virtual avatar does not force one to do the individual exercises or make strict rules, but points out when the user is overdoing or underdoing it, and encourages him or her to give it their best – much like a human personal trainer. This coach helps overcome one’s inner couch potato,” Professor Schack said.