In the heady days of the dotcom bubble, you knew you'd made it if there was a Herman Miller Aeron chair behind your desk.
Sleek and ergonomic, with a satisfying circular swoosh motion that added flair to any phone call, the Aeron was the digital cognoscenti status symbol. The 100-year-old, Michigan-based Herman Miller has sold more than 7 million Aeron chairs since they debuted in 1994, and now you can pull it up to Live OS, the company's new sensor-equipped desks, which adjust to your liking with the help of a smartphone.
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Ryan Anderson, head of commercialization for Herman Miller's IoT Solutions, gave PCMag a sneak peek at Live OS in the company's Culver City showroom, a fantasyland for mid-century modern devotees (it's no secret the company consulted on AMC's Mad Men).
Live OS is a bit of a departure for Herman Miller, functioning as both a furniture offering and managed software. But as Anderson tells PCMag, the company has a long history of innovation and it felt like the right time to do this.
"In 1968, when Douglas Engelbart was giving his 'The Mother of All Demos' about the coming networked hardware/software computing revolution, the Herman Miller research team was there, having designed the office setup for the talk itself," Anderson says. "We have continued the tradition of exploring how technology impacts the workplace since then.
"We asked ourselves, what would it look like to have sensor-enabled furniture? In a mobile-first workplace, what are the new patterns of behavior? How best to maximize space, while encouraging innovation and flow? How could we serve both those using the product, to create a better, more enjoyable and healthier experience, as well as those managing the environment through data dashboard and analysis?"
Anderson admits Herman Miller "took a few liberties by calling it Live OS [since] it's not truly an operating system, but we always joke that the tech industry stole the word 'desktop' so we decided to have a little fun with the term."
To walk us through Live OS, Anderson entered a workstation and put his iPhone on the 30-by-60-inch Renew Sit-to-Stand Table. Several things happened: the phone's screen automatically displayed the Live OS app; the Garmin-developed ANT wireless network fired up sensors and a power source under the table; an opaque, circular smart desk controller under the table glowed Lucite blue-green; and the table rose into Anderson's pre-configured specifications.
Then Anderson triggered the "it's time to switch position for optimum wellness" setting. Rather than an annoying beep, or (*yawn*) "healthy tip at the top of the hour" alert, the table mysteriously vibrated in a haptic-powered "nudge."
"Users can make progress toward activity goals with the Live OS app, while, from the business side, the dashboard offers real-time data analysis and delivers insights to enhance workplace performance, as sensors on all connected work surfaces capture space utilization data for facilities teams," he says.
Ah, sensors and mesh networks. But what about hacking?
"The furniture talks to each other throughout the facility and communicates through a cellular gateway, so this is completely off the client company's IT network, protecting them from cyberattack vectors/vulnerabilities," according to Anderson. "That was the biggest requirement we got from IT security teams and residential development management companies."
For those concerned about Herman Miller snooping on your office style, Anderson insists the company is "very protective, almost to a fault, about anonymized data. So you can find out whatever you need to about how the space itself is utilized, but not down to individual people profiles. That's just not available to the employer within Live OS."
Live OS launched in North America earlier this summer, with an international rollout planned in 2018 and beyond. There is currently limited availability, but you can sign up on Herman Miller's website for more information. The next big push will be integration with the Aeron chair.
"People will then be able to set posture preferences, get subtle haptic cues to re-adjust their sit position to a healthier alignment, thereby avoid workplace injuries, and receive ergonomic wellness on-boarding and training updates," he says.
Going forward, Herman Miller plans "to add in more elements into the Live OS network to make it as rich as possible," Anderson says.
This makes sense as smart furniture is still a nascent business but IoT is developing fast. Live OS could, for example, accommodate augmented reality displays floating over height-adjustable desks, and network with digital devices of the future. Thinking even further ahead, one could pair a brain-machine interface with workspace sound and lighting cues. All the while, your Aeron chair nudges you gently sit up straight.