Think about how you're sat right now. Chances are, you're slouched in your seat at work or hunching over your smartphone and putting strain on your back. It's the simple kind of behaviour that's at the root of a laundry list of modern health issues, leading to a rise in wearable tech combatting the issue.
One of the first to enter the area of connected posture trainers was Backbone Labs, a San Francisco startup which managed to raise close to $500,000 through its first campaign back in March 2016. Now it's returned with a second generation Backbone, and is once again looking to encourage people to shape up on its way to a $25,000 goal. Early bird backers can begin sitting up straight for $69, a healthy snip from its eventual retail price of $99, with orders expected to ship next March.
The premise is still the same: your posture is discreetly improved through the brace aligning your shoulders and spine, while a sensor is able to track your body and send vibrations when you're slouching or have been sitting too long. Meanwhile, a companion app supports you with feedback on your progress and posture-strengthening exercises – though as far as we can tell this doesn't include any haptic feedback to ensure you're stretching correctly.
"It's really hard to have and maintain good posture, so we believe a physical assistant is something that's crucial — at least in the beginning. After all, it's like riding a bicycle, you wouldn't go out for the first time without training wheels. So in a way we see ourselves as the training wheels for your posture," Khoa Phan, Backbone Labs co-founder and CEO, told us.
The second device from the company will feature the same brace-like design as the original, with Phan indicating that the real changes come through the refreshed software and sensors packed under the hood.
"We've made a number of improvements, mainly based on what users have told us, but also feedback we've had from health professionals that we're working with," said Phan. "We're trying to approach things from a more holistic point of view; not only do you get the physical assistance, but we're also giving you things like advice and stretches so you can address the problem at its core. We want to solve it rather than be a crutch that just buzzes you, which we feel our competitors have been doing."
But with more competitors aiming to help provide support for people's backs, the lines can become blurred as to the differences between what's offered. Rivals such as Upright and Lumo have both developed popular platforms, though Phan noted that both companies' respective designs, which are simply attachable sensors, don't physically promote good posture in the same way as Backbone.
"At first glance, [Backbone's] not something you would necessarily want to wear – most people would associate a brace with a medical condition. But we purposely designed it to be worn discreetly, even in tight fitting clothing this thing can be hard to see," he continued.
As well as its alternative design, Backbone's second generation wearable will now support exercise and stretching plans, too, as well as providing a number of educational videos. And although it's doing things slightly differently, Phan did point out that the growing competition was a positive step in terms of awareness of the issue.
There's a lot to like about Backbone Labs' return to the crowdfunding scene, but let's break down whether you should back the project.
As Phan noted, this campaign will target a fresh audience, with the physical design of the product not actually straying too far from the original – this is still a wearable that'll act as a discreet brace for your posture. So if you're already wearing a Backbone, there's not necessarily a strong pull to upgrade here.
However, if you're new to the world of posture wearables and are looking for a holistic approach to improving your form, this is certainly an option to consider. And while it's always fair to question a company's ability to bring a product to backers, Backbone Labs' history of delivering a competitive product in line with a shipping date is a big tick against its name.
Things can always get complicated, of course, but Phan noted that this time around should be more straightforward having gone through the manufacturing and shipping process previously.
The campaign will close in around a month's time, with those interested able to head to Indiegogo and support the project.