Spinoff is NASA’s annual publication featuring successfully commercialized NASA technology. This commercialization has contributed to the development of products and services in the fields of health and medicine, consumer goods, transportation, public safety, computer technology, and environmental resources.

The i7 PLUS massage chair offers a Zero Gravity setting based on NASA’s neutral body posture specifications. The reclining position reduces stress on the body, while the user’s weight provides the resistance needed to get the most out of the acupressure massage.

Johnson Space Center’s human health and performance teams conduct research into the operational, habitability, and environmental factors that impact astronaut health and productivity including the analysis of body posture. Employing the discipline known as anthropometry, they make an ongoing study of human body proportions and ergonomics in space. The data is used to develop and test space hardware and procedures from spacesuits to living quarters and mission equipment.

NASA’s first set of posture standards, based on photographs from Skylab, were included in a document known as NASA Standard 3000 created during the late 1980s. These specifications were revisited during the 1993 Space Shuttle mission STS-57. Johnson researchers not only wanted a larger sample size of astronauts (including measurements of women as well as men) but also wanted to improve the precision of observations. They did this by making use of video cameras in addition to photographs and by having astronauts wear tank tops and shorts to expose limbs, among other improvements.

The data revealed that there is no universal posture the human body takes on in zero gravity. Rather, the neutral body posture represents a range of postures, with certain commonalities in the angles of joints and the positions assumed by the limbs and neck.

NASA’s neutral body posture data has been informing designs for earthbound humans such as office chairs and specially designed car seats that make driving more comfortable. Now, Arlington, TX-based LURACO Health and Beauty LLC is combining the ancient health benefits of acupressure therapy with neutral body position research in the first medical massage chair.

Acupressure is well documented as an effective therapy to speed healing, alleviate pain, reduce stress, and impart a host of other wellness benefits. Kevin Le, an inventor and chief technology officer with LURACO, realized that the neutral body posture observed in zero gravity could enhance a robotic medical massage. He used the NASA data to mimic the body positioning and joint angles exhibited in low-Earth orbit in the Zero Gravity setting of the company’s iRobotic 7 PLUS massage chair.

The reclining position, which supports a neutral posture, relieves strain on joints and muscles caused by gravity. At the same time, the user’s body weight provides the amount of resistance needed to get the most out of the massage. Advanced robotics powered by 12 motors deliver a unique massage tailored to the acupressure points of anyone seated in the chair. A touchscreen similar to that of a smartphone controls the initial body scan and acts as a remote control for numerous settings. Acupressure point techniques applied to the neck, shoulders, and back — in addition to arms, legs, and feet — provide a whole-body massage.

According to LURACO, its i7 PLUS model accommodates any body shape including individuals over six feet tall and weighing up to 300 pounds. The chair adjusts to each person by way of a patented operating system that conducts a two-minute scan to identify shape, size, and acupressure point locations. The system can generate and store up to five body scans along with individualized massage preferences. Integrated health-monitoring features measure blood pressure and heart rate.

One benefit of massaging muscles is that it removes lactic acid from the body’s tissues. This helps improve the lymph fluid circulation that takes away metabolic waste and promotes blood circulation. If a muscle is injured, that increased circulation improves the flow of healing nutrients and oxygen. Massaging injured tissue can also reduce stiffness and swelling while increasing flexibility, aiding the healing process and improving pain management.

In addition to rest and relaxation, recovery from health issues — such as joint pain, muscle strain, mental strain from anxiety, and depression — defines the medical nature of the massage. The chair replicates a hands-on massage and eliminates the discomfort many people experience with the physical contact of a masseuse.

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Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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