From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Emerging Ergonomic Technologies: Laptops and Hand Stabilizing Support Device

A Device to Stabilize the Hand for Precision Tasks or Disability Accommodation

Researchers at the University of Utah have prototyped a hand/forearm support system that assists people while performing precision hand tasks. It could also be used to assist or accommodate people with disabilities. 

Right now, it’s made of aluminum, plywood, geared motors, and a piece of foam rubber. But a University of Utah professor and his students are convinced that their invention will steady the hands of surgeons, artists, and people with conditions like cerebral palsy.

It looks like they have a lot of work to do before the technology is ready for commercial application, but we know first hand here at Ergoweb that the University of Utah has an effective approach to technology transfer (Ergoweb’s Job Evaluator Toolbox™ (JET™) software has roots with the UofU, dating back to the early 1990’s), so I hope this finds its way into real world application.

Designed by mechanical engineers, the motorized active hand rest takes the inevitable fatigue and shaky hand out of the equation by supporting the working hand and moving along with it.

Read the article and see a video of the prototype in action …


Will We Ever See an Ergonomic Laptop (Notebook) Reach the Market?

As Ergoweb writer Jeannie Croasmun once put it,

For years, regular users of laptops have known that anything labeled as an ergonomic laptop is either a typo or an oxymoron. Portable and convenient, sure, but the notebook computer’s ability to cause pain from tiny keyboards, attached screens, heavy weight and an unfortunate locale for a high operating temperature…

That was written way back in 2003, and we’re still waiting for a manufacturer to seriously address ergonomics in market ready laptop design. Manufacturers have made progress in upsizing displays and keyboards and reducing total weight, but the displays are still fixed to the keyboards, contrary to basic ergonomic design principles. In her article, Croasmun describes IBM prototypes from that time period:

In the prototype modeled after the ThinkPad T40, IBM incorporates a hinged display that can be raised up to three inches above the keyboard. The keyboard itself can slide forward and tilt as well. In the second prototype, modeled after desktop computers, the monitor can be raised and lowered, but the keyboard is detachable and wireless. Currently, both are just models; no production date has been announced.

Apparently, no production date was ever announced, because to our knowledge, IBM never produced models with these features.

Jeannie Croasmun also wrote an article (2002) about the heat produced by laptops, an article which we can humbly say had a big influence on an industry change in terminology (the article was picked up by Google as a featured news article, resulting in so much traffic that our servers crashed). In Got a Hunk of Burning Love? Could Be Coming From Your Laptop, Croasmun describes a true case:

… the 50-year-old unnamed scientist reported a “burning sensation” after using his laptop computer situated on his lap for about an hour while writing a report.

The scientist noticed irritation and redness, but until he was examined by a doctor the following day, he didn’t realize the scope of the damage done by his computer …

We’re not supposed to call them laptops anymore. They’re now called notebooks. (Don’t tell anyone, but I’m typing this article with my notebook on my lap, with a real notebook between the notebook and my lap as a heat shield, so I won’t be following the path of the unfortunate scientist described above.)

So, here we are seven years after the IBM prototypes, and we’re still getting concept designs. No word whether this is headed toward a marketable product, but at least someone is thinking about it. Here’s a concept by designer Vincent Liew:

With technological advancements this portable device initially designed to keep us connected anywhere and everywhere in transit is fast replacing its desktop counterpart. However, there are some physical ergonomic issues related to laptop which violate the basic ergonomic posture for using a laptop. Designer Vincent Liew has come up with a new industrial product which confronts these problems with the mechanism of hinge and layering extension to improve the arm and eye screen level comfort. The redesigned industrial product has a flexible mechanism with hinge and layering extension to improve the adjustability between laptop display monitor and input device keyboard. The hinges provide layers of three different height adjustment layers so that the users no longer have to compromise screen display distance for arm comfort or have large eye screen distance with extended arm.

See images of this adjustable laptop …

Are there any entrepreneurs out there? Instead of waiting for manufacturers who continue to neglect ergonomics in their designs — at their own peril, I might add — maybe some enterprising ergonomists and designers should set a new bar based on human-centered design — ergonomics — rather than remaining mired in technology-centered designs that fail to meet real user needs and experiences. Any takers?


Curved Monitor/Split Keyboard Laptop (Notebook) Prototype

Technology that will allow for curved or even flexible displays is steadily advancing (e.g., we’ve profiled inorganic light-emitting diode technology (ILEDs)). Here’s a prototype that uses organic light-emitting diode technology (OLED) in a shaped laptop that’s curved in such a way that they are able to build in a slightly split keyboard. Here’s their claim:

The key innovation behind Arc’s technology is the combination of a curved display and keyboard providing a powerful synergistic user experience, enhanced visual and listening experience, and an ergonomically correct typing posture which is far superior to the current designs on the market today.

Read more and see videos of the Arc in action …