Forget standing desks, this one lets you work lying down
After trying out the $US5,900 ($8330) Altwork Station, one thought immediately comes to mind: boycott work until you're issued one of these babies.
In development for five years in a rural Sonoma County barn, Altwork Station is a combination standing desk and fully automated recliner that transitions between those extremes at the touch of one button.
Most ingeniously, as you gradually rock back into a position typically synonymous with snoozing in a first-class airline seat, your monitor and desk pivot and slant with you, with keyboard and mouse defying gravity thanks to powerful magnets.
Let's just say that if Captain James Tiberius Kirk had worked at a startup, this would be his desk.
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.
Voight, who comes from a family of artists and builders whose property includes a vineyard, previously built drone technology for the military. He turned his attention to improving the workstation after hearing the growing buzz about workplace ergonomics.
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.
But when a recent study by researchers at Swiss university ETH Zurich warned that prolonged standing could lead to significant back problems, Voight realised 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.
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 minimise the use of electronic actuators, which over time can cause maintenance trouble spots.
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. The result is a both smooth and silent operation.
USA Today tried the Altwork Station at the company's small office at a downtown incubator. In standing mode, you have a monitor at eye level floating above a tray that holds the magnetised keyboard and mouse.
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.
By pressing a selected button -- you can pre-program four favourite positions -- the workstation will begin its slow transformation. As it moves, you sit down and pull the swivelling tray toward you.
The chair begins to recline while leg supports uncurl. Perhaps the best and most familiar comparison is to a dentist chair, which can change from bolt upright to fully reclined.
But in the case of Altwork Station, when you're totally horizontal your keyboard and monitor remain perfectly positioned and perpendicular to you.
What's perhaps most surprising to a first-time user is just how comfortable it is to type while fully reclined. In fact, the position is so relaxed that it would seem to buttress Voight's claims that productivity might be increased in such a position. He says that coders who have tried out the Altwork Station have often remarked that the only thing they would need to fully zone out into their own worlds for hours at a time is a pair of headphones.
"Then you really have that cocoon effect where you're just hyper-focused on what's in front of you," he says.
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."
- USA Today