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    Back pain? This app uses your webcam to detect bad posture – TechSwitch

    Are you slouching at your desk once more? There’s an app for that… Zen makes use of posture mirroring software program to assist data employees cease hunching over their desks — sending alerts when it detects you’re not sitting up straight so you’ll be able to right your posture and, hopefully, keep away from a lifetime of again issues.
    The catch? It makes use of your webcam to verify in your posture. So, er, you need to be comfy with Zen’s software program ‘watching’ via the lens as you’re employed.
    Given how many individuals routinely tape over their webcam simply to make sure — y’know, that the NSA isn’t watching — that’s fairly the ask. So we requested Zen’s co-founder and CEO, Daniel James, how the San Francisco-based startup works round that privateness concern.
    As effectively as providing the device direct to shoppers (it presently has 1,000+ customers of its subscription service), the startup sells a model of Zen to employers and has signed up round 30 firms (together with over a dozen enterprises) because it launched the providing again in October 2020. And given rocketing progress in employee surveillance instruments because the pandemic-triggered increase in distant working there’s loads of purpose for privateness considerations.
    For instance, may an employer that’s signed as much as Zen use the device, if not actually to spy on employees sitting at their desks (which might in all probability be fairly boring tbh), then to log what number of hours they’re bodily sat in entrance of the display, say — and use these data-points to strain staff to shorten any desk breaks they could want to take?
    Dystopian makes use of of webcam-based instruments aren’t arduous to think about as a result of such stuff, sadly, isn’t science fiction. Take Amazon’s launch within the US final yr of AI-powered cameras in its Prime supply vans, which it mentioned could be used to evaluate driver “safety” — however which critics immediately dubbed Orwellian surveillance…
    In brief, ‘AIs with eyes’ can simply really feel, er, operate creepy.
    Zen says it’s taken a “privacy centric” method to constructing this webcam-based posture correcting tech — which means its taken some particular steps to attempt to reassure customers they’re not being watched by it or anybody else because the AI watches them.
    Firstly, its posture correction software program is open supply (the code is right here on Github). “We use open source software for the entire app, except our exercise and educational content, which we custom make,” notes James when as requested about that.
    The AI additionally processes information domestically, on gadget — which implies it doesn’t require an web connection to operate — so he says customers can confirm for themselves that it’s not importing/streaming any information to the cloud by testing it with their wi-fi/web connection disabled.
    “The posture correction software feature runs offline, without internet, without recording or storing visuals,” he emphasizes. “Since data, like photos or videos, can’t be passed to the cloud without internet connection, which is the only way that employers could spy on employees, it’s technically impossible for us (Zen) or employers to record or store any visuals and ultimately spy on people.”
    He additionally confirms that employers who use Zen’s software program solely obtain “aggregated” (complete firm) and “anonymous” (no particular person names) data on what number of staff signal as much as the app and what number of apply it to a weekly foundation.
    “With these two data points they can see if employees are engaged with Zen or not, which is usually the determining factor for them when deciding to extend their contract with us,” he provides.
    So — to be clear — Zen’s declare is that neither employers who pay it for the software program (or Zen itself) can entry the digital camera feed of customers to report or retailer any visuals.
    “The posture correction feature of the app, which is the only feature that accesses individuals’ cameras doesn’t run on the cloud, which technically means that no one can tap into the app and access data, including visuals,” says James, including: “Surprisingly, no employer has ever asked for ‘spy’ type data. They really just want to know if employees are using the solution that they are paying for.”
    Even so, privateness aware desk employees should still not like the concept of sitting in entrance of a unadorned digital camera lens all day.
    After all, there may be little in tech so blissfully out-of-sight-out-of-mind as a webcam with a sticker caught firmly over it.
    Posture check-ins

    On this, James suggests Zen customers have provide you with their very own solution to really feel comfy with the device as he says they have a tendency to make use of the app to do brief posture checks in — say of 30 minutes or an hour with the function enabled, a few instances a day — quite than preserving it on on a regular basis.
    The builders have neatly leaned into that — recommending customers do only a brief day by day verify in to remain posture conscious.
    “We noticed that the majority of our users don’t leave Zen on all day. Instead they do a short 30-60 minute posture session during their first work session in the morning and another one around Noon or 4 PM. This correlates to how most people meditate,” James tells TechSwitch. “They spend a short while actively being conscious of their ideas which strengthens their passive consciousness all through the day. This works for posture as effectively.
    “Doing short small sessions daily ultimately increases your posture awareness and behavior change. Furthermore, in user interviews people often tell us that ‘Zen seems to be in the back of my head even when I’m not at my desktop. I find myself slouching at the dinner table, and I’m starting to naturally notice it and move back into an upright position.’ From this anecdotal and analytical data, we decided to recommend people to start using the app for just thirty minutes a day during what we call the ‘7-Day Posture Challenge’ and people are seeing amazing results both in increased posture awareness and decreased back and joint pain.”
    “We’ve found that people aren’t as concerned about any privacy invasions when they realize that Zen doesn’t have to be on all day. You can turn it on and off as you wish,” he provides.
    James additionally says customers usually mix use of the posture monitoring function with use of different apps which require the webcam to be on, reminiscent of after they’re making a videoconferencing name.
    “They can show posture awareness and confidence during their video calls and they have their camera on for Zoom and G Meets regardless so they aren’t as concerned about any privacy invasions,” he notes.
    Zen integrates with the person’s normal laptop workflow — working within the background and mirroring the person’s posture through a stick-man icon displayed within the menu bar which lets customers preserve discreet tabs with out being interrupted with alert messages. Blue and upright is nice; bent and purple is dangerous. (James says it by no means sends distracting/pop-up message alerts; however customers can select from just a few choices how they need to be alerted.)
    How Zen alerts customers to poor posture: A bigger graphic will be pinned to the display (with an elective alarm function) or customers can depend on watching a discreet stick-man within the menu bar can (Credit: Zen)
    The posture correcting AI works off a user-defined baseline — which means the person must reveal their upright posture on arrange. The app then makes use of that to construct a user-specific mannequin product of vectors that report key posture factors/indictors (joints, nostril, ears and so forth) so the AI can detect posture modifications in real-time (i.e. when the digital camera monitoring is enabled) and decide whether or not or not the particular person is slouching.
    “These posture points are fed to a mathematical model that constantly compares your current posture position to the original baseline posture position that you set as your ‘upright’ position,” he explains. “In addition, the app applies geometrical formulas to vectors formed by your current posture position and your original baseline upright posture position to determine if you’re slouching.”
    James has a private purpose to be eager on preserving good posture, having been a “very active” NCAA Division-One faculty soccer participant at Yale University who then went on to working at Adobe in San Francisco — and “living the typical sedentary corporate lifestyle of sitting in front of a computer for over eight hours a day” — which ultimately led to him growing severe low again ache and carpal tunnel.
    “Adobe offered great ergonomic resources like a free ergonomic consultation and a stand-up desk and purchased different devices that claimed to help with posture but my pain just continued to increase,” he says, fleshing out the explanations that led to founding Zen.
    There was a fortunate strike too: His co-founder, Alex Secara — who was his housemate on the time and is now Zen’s CTO — had already developed a posture correction software program for himself in faculty to assist with a spine-related situation he has (kyphosis) which had additionally been exacerbated after lengthy hours of coding throughout tech internships.
    “We ultimately decided to join forces to build Zen alongside top ergonomists and physical therapists,” provides James.
    Zen is disclosing $3.5M in pre-seed funding raised from buyers together with Y Combinator, Valor Equity Partners, Goodwater Capital, Samsung Next, Softbank and others which it says will probably be utilizing to put money into increasing its crew for progress and product dev — with plans within the works for key workday integrations (Slack, G Cal, Microsoft Teams), and for variations of the software program for various units/platforms (cellular, pill, and so forth.).
    The startup additionally tells us says it’s exploring partnerships with bigger firms and “further proving out the efficacy of our solutions through clinical studies”. (Current enterprise clients embody Brex, Alation and Cedar.)
    Zen additionally plans to change the patron product to a freemium model — saying it’s aiming for a mannequin akin to the meditation app Calm with premium paid options.
    Expanding into promoting bodily merchandise (extra ergonomic chairs, mice, keyboards and so forth) can be on its roadmap, per James, who says it’s additionally seeking to discover whether or not it could possibly make use of present motion sensor {hardware} in units like extra excessive finish headphones, wearables and mobiles to see if it may repurpose these alerts for figuring out if an individual is slouching or not.
    If it could possibly devise AI fashions to determine that out, it’d find yourself being doable for customers to get real-time, back-saving posture-mirroring suggestions with out ever needing to change the digital camera on. Bliss!

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