It is well known that space technology tends to drip down on everyday consumer products. Think infrared ear thermometers, space blankets, and TEMPUR foam. In fact, space technology is predicted to generate revenue for more than $1 trillion by 2040. Here, we explore the application of one such space technology, the zero gravity position.
The zero gravity technology posture has nothing to do with anti gravity technology, sorry folks. Rather, it refers to the neutral body posture (NBP) - the position which the body naturally assumes when suspended in the zero or microgravity state.
NASA first studied the neutral body posture by observing astronauts suspended in the weightless state at the SkyLab space station in the years following the Apollo Program. These studies were later reinforced by more detailed ones from the 1993 space shuttle mission STS-57, which included videos and photos of astronauts wearing just tank tops and shorts to expose their limbs.
While NASA’s studies showed that there is no such thing as a universal zero gravity posture, they found common denominators to be a natural curvature of the neck and spine, along with a slight bend of the elbows and knees.
The body neutral posture is the position in which there is the least strain on the spine, and the muscles are the most relaxed. In other words, this is the position where humans will experience the least fatigue and the back is best protected.
NASA used this knowledge of when there is minimal pressure on the spine and muscles to create safe seating systems for their rockets and space stations. The neutral body posture was also included in their Man-Systems Integration Standards (MSIS) NASA-STD-3000.
Since NASA developed the concept of the neutral body posture, the principles they developed have informed anything from car seats to zero gravity indoor recliners. Here we look at some of the wider applications:
The first ‘spin-off’ of the zero gravity technology was (perhaps not surprising) office chairs. BodyBilt®, Inc., a company from Navasota, Texas, used the zero gravity principle to fashion chairs which reduced the strain of gravity on seated workers.
The original brochure from the company read:
"A pressure-reducing contour that lessens the devastating effects of gravity. From space-age research, a seating system developed to support a natural, stress-free posture."
BodyBilt might have been the first office chair maker to employ zero gravity technology, but they certainly weren’t the last. Since then, many chair designs have been informed by the neutral body posture.
Car manufacturer Nissan observed that body posture is a significant factor in how physically tired drivers become. Therefore, they decided to use the body neutral posture to inform the design of their car seats.
Akinari Hirao, Manager of Vehicle Component Engineering at Nissan, stated to NASA’s spinoff magazine:
“We hypothesized that a neutral body posture, as measured by NASA in microgravity, seems to be a comfortable posture and we validated it by our experiments.”
With positive results from their trials, Nissan debuted their NBP-inspired in the 2013 Altima and has since used it in other car models, including the Infiniti.
The zero gravity principle is a central part of the design of the EnergyPod - the world’s first nap pod designed for the workplace.
The contour of the seat of the EnergyPod mimics the zero gravity position, and the reclining mechanism allows the user to elevate their feet, thus removing pressure from the spine and leading blood to the stomach region, which is conducive to sleep.
When taking a nap in the EnergyPod, the user is partially covered by a canopy and wears noise-canceling headphones featuring relaxing soundtracks and guided relaxations. At the end of the session, gentle light and vibrations help to wake the user up on time.
One of the more recent spin-offs from the concept of the neutral body posture has been a full body massage chair by Texan company Luraco.
Kevin Le, an inventor and chief technology officer with LURACO, came up with the idea that zero gravity technology might enhance the massage chair experience. He used NASA’s data to mimic the neutral body posture in the Luraco iRobotic 7 Plus massage chair.
Today, the Luraco i7 Plus massage chair is one of the only massage chairs approved for medical use, and also one of the only chairs to have been tested in an institutional setting, namely in the US army.
In i7 Plus, the zero gravity technology enhances the already existing benefits of massage chairs which include removing lactic acid from the muscle tissue, improving blood circulation, and reducing stiffness and pain.
“When a person uses a zero-gravity body posture, it allows their body to have the full benefit of massage therapy. NASA has made that possible.”
- Robyn Readicker, International Sales and Marketing Manager.
This article was brought to you by Restworks. We are a company dedicated to improving work-life through technology such as nap pods, massage chairs, and sleep technology. Visit our website to learn more about our solutions and the science behind napping at the workplace.