Quantified Posture: A LumoBack Review

It haunted me. Like a weird posture peddler, the ad followed me everywhere I went online. Apparently one  visit to Lumo’s site a few months ago was enough for Google’s ad network to put a Lumo ad in front of me on what felt like every site I visited.

I probably wouldn’t even have noticed if I wasn’t already intrigued. I have wanted to fix my posture for years. When I see someone about to take a photo of me, I make a conscious effort to stand straighter. But when I see the resulting photos I still often feel like I’m not standing as tall as I would like.

And yet I hesitated. Realtime feedback aside, I like to know that I can analyze my data later and compare it with data from other sources in order to get a fuller picture and run experiments. I had read that the LumoBack API wasn’t ready, so despite promises, I was concerned that the data would be stuck in the device, not readily available for external analysis. Every now and then I would do a search for LumoBack API, and finally I found the droids I was looking for. I couldn’t get access to the API or its documentation without an account, but it was enough to make me take the plunge.

Initial Experience

Lumo is pretty good at detecting whether I’m sitting, standing, or walking, although it doesn’t always pick up on the transitions between them very quickly. I found that occasionally it would take up to 30 seconds to realize I had stood up from a sitting position. It is possible to force it to know that you’re sitting or standing with a simple swipe, which hopefully teaches it to be quicker in the future.

There are several levels of sensitivity, depending on how much you want to be able to slouch before Lumo corrects you. I went immediately to the most sensitive setting, which turns Lumo into an all-out posture Nazi. While you’re sitting, that is.

Lumo is much more strict when you are sitting than when you are standing or walking, even on the most sensitive setting. I have to lean quite a lot while I’m standing before Lumo reacts. There is likely a good reason for this; as I move through my daily life, there are times where it is certainly okay to be a little out of position. That said, it does give the perception that the realtime feedback is less useful for standing and walking posture than it is for sitting posture.

Further tests may help determine whether this perception is warranted.

Update: after another day with Lumo and some additional introspection, I’m finding that my posture concerns when sitting are primarily with my lower back, which is where the LumoBack excels. When standing, my problem is more often with the upper back/shoulders, which is outside of what Lumo primarily tracks. When walking or driving, Lumo seems to ignore posture.


Out of the box, the presentation is nicely done. The setup instructions are simple and straightforward. The calibration is easy. No problems connecting Bluetooth to my iPhone 5 running iOS 7.0. My LumoBack model is version 3.0.5.

Car Trouble

Wow. Apparently car seats are terrible for good posture. Maybe it’s just my car seat, although I did also have similar trouble in a rental car recently. Previously I thought I had my car seat set in a position that would help me to sit up better, but apparently I couldn’t have been more wrong. While I can very quickly find my good posture in a normal chair, in the car it was nearly impossible. I spent a good 5-10 minutes adjusting my car seat and my posture to get Lumo to stop burning a hole in my lower back and still couldn’t maintain a good position for more than about 30 seconds at a time.

I would have to lean forward against the seat belt and away from the back of the seat, which is curved in a way that doesn’t allow for a straight back. The whole experience was incredibly awkward and frustrating. I tried to maintain posture as best I could and adjust the seat to try to support it.

One of the more interesting and unique metrics the LumoBack has to offer is that it can automatically detect the amount of time you spend in the car. Presumably it determines this purely through accelerometer data. So before the car actually starts moving, Lumo doesn’t know you’re in a car and just assumes you’re sitting normally just like any chair.

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Biometrics of Jurassic Park 3D

Once upon a time I studied to take the SAT. To that end, I took an SAT prep class and in said class they mentioned the importance of nutrition for studying. Because, they said, the brain becomes a major calorie-consuming organ when it is taxed with difficult tests.

Assuming this was true, I wondered if the same principal would correspond with emotional, as well as intellectual, engagement. And I saw an opportunity to run an experiment:

Jurassic Park was one of the movies that had a major impact on me as a kid and influenced my decision to go to film school. But I never had a chance to see it in the theater – until now. So I wore my BodyMedia armband during a showing of Jurassic Park 3D in order to record my calorie burn.

I had this great plan. I knew that this is a movie that has a major effect on me, which I hypothesized could also have an influence on my calorie burn at different parts of the movie. So the plan was that once I got back home I would take a look at the calorie graph, find any peaks and troughs, then go back through the movie on DVD and correlate my calorie burn to different events in the movie.

The result would be a sort of “heat map” of my level of captivation with movie magic.

The bottom line:

Calorie Burn Jurassic Park 3D

…and flatline.

It turns out that if there’s one lesson I can learn from this experiment, it’s that in terms of calorie burn, sitting is sitting no matter how engaged you are in the movie!

I probably could have picked a better metric… I imagine that wearing a heart rate monitor would have revealed a graph with a bit more variability.

Also, in spite of being involved in the movie, I’ve also seen it a million times and there are no longer any surprises for me. It’s possible that surprises could have burned more calories, although heart rate is almost certainly a better way to go in the future.

It appears that the main factor affecting movie-watching calorie burn rate is whether or not you get up to go to the bathroom during the movie.

It also makes me want to wear the BodyMedia armband during the GRE or some other sedentary, high stakes testing situation to see about those brain calorie burn claims.