At first glance, every desk at Stanford School of Medicine’s Pervasive Wellbeing Technology Lab looks the same. But if you watch for long enough, one desk may appear to have a mind of its own – adjusting itself to move up and down without any apparent human direction, and earning it the nickname of the “haunted desk.”
But in fact, this desk isn’t haunted at all. It’s part of an ongoing experiment – one that explores wellness technology and human-robot relations. It was begun by Pablo E. Paredes, a professor of radiology and behavioral sciences who’s just a bit infatuated with the potential of technology to transform physical and mental health.
One example? A desk that forces the person working at it to change their physical positions throughout the day. And while it may look like it’s being possessed by a supernatural power, it’s all simple programming with personalized settings.
At first use, the desk will record your sitting and standing height preferences – then it will alternate between them at manually selected time intervals.
Many desks have already been developed that offer adjustability in an effort to combat health problems like obesity, diabetes, and muscular tension that are often linked to long stretches of sitting at desks and in offices. But many workers who opt for these quickly become disenchanted with the interruptions, despite the fact that it’s for their own good.
That’s where Paredes saw an opportunity – let the technology compensate for human apathy by taking the decision out of our hands. With this desk, there’s no pausing or snoozing the process once the settings are in. Using the desk means agreeing to its rigid schedule. And it’s not as easy as it sounds; most workers quickly become disenchanted with the interruptions, despite the fact that it’s for their own good.
Paredes says that they key is “how to design it such that the non-volitional aspect doesn’t become something that people will be really reactive about. … Yeah, it’s annoying that it goes up and down. But it’s also good for your health. Same as the gym. You go to the gym and it’s pretty annoying to lift the weight. Nobody does it, like, pleasurably. But that’s what you need to do.”
And this technological desk “ghost” not only simple, but totally affordable: the sensor and nodule cost only $30 together, and can easily be integrated with a regular work station.
It doesn’t have an official name yet, so we’ll be milking its “haunted” nickname for all its worth in the meantime.