Introduction: Anti-Gravity Workstation (with Standing Option)
The human body was not designed to spend 8 hours a day sitting with our hands on a mouse and keyboard. More than half of office workers will be affected by some form of back pain due to the imposed posture of traditional office furniture. We have seen a massive shift towards standing desks, which help alleviate some people's chronic pain. I have developed a nagging pain in my upper back that worsens when working long hours. I have tried a standing desk, but I get a separate pain in my lower back from this position. A position where my head and shoulders are partially supported seems ideal for me and so I looked at some "lounging desk" options. Ergoquest and Altwork are some of the commercialized options available; these will set you back $5,000 to $10,000 USD which is beyond my budget. Actually I think I can do better in terms of portability, usability and cost.
So the quest was to create a lounging workstation that could also be used as a standing desk for a fraction of the price. All of the designs that I had seen required a massive support system and motors or actuators to keep the the computer screens suspended in front of the worker. I figured that if we could lighten the load from the screen then I could significantly simplify the design. The solution I found is only really recently practical due to new video projectors that have are sufficiently light and high resolution. I simply mounted this projector onto the back of a outdoor lounge chair constructed light screen up front and: BINGO we have a fully reclining workstation. I even figured out how to use a standing option using this configuration. The beauty of this design is that the head, projector and screen are in a fixed geometry, so that any adjustment is instant.
Unlike many of my projects that end up in my reject pile, I use this almost every day for many hours (I am using it NOW) and fully expect to continue using it or an upgraded version. I already have ideas for V2 (see the last step).
* I am not an ergonomics expert and cannot certify that this system will be safe to use for all people.
Step 1: Required Items
For this project you will need the following items:
- Outdoor lounging chair. 50$ on Amazon
- Small data projector. Minimum resolution (400$) or 1080P (800$). The choice and cost will change quickly, so do some research to find something that fits your needs and budget.
- 24 inches of 1/2 inch flat steel bar
- 24 inches of 1/4 inch angle steel
- 10cm of 1/8 inch steel bar
- 2 x 4 feet long peices of bamboo, or pvc, or carbon fiber tubing (light and stiff)
- Cheap camera tripod 10$
- Foam board (can also be found at Dollar Store)
- 36 x 12 inch pine shelving board 20$
- Computer, wireless mouse and keyboard. I got the ergonomic keyboard and mouse from Microsoft. The keyboard takes some getting used to but it allows your hands to be further apart which works well with this setup.
- Spray paint
You will also need some tools for this project.
- Angle grinder with zip-cut, sanding and grinding attachments
- Welding kit
- Drill and various bits
Step 2: Projector Mount
To mount the projector to the chair, I used a bent piece of flat steel. I bent it backwards to gain a few inches of throw distance, with about 8 inches horizontal length. I designed the mount with about 8 inches of height above the top of the chair to make sure my noggin did not block the projection. I cut a hole in the fabric at the top of the chair to expose the frame, it is best to check the location with your projector because the mounting hole/lens will likely be offset from center. I then used a wet towel to protect the fabric while welding the steel in place.
I sawed off the base of the tripod and attached it through the flat steel with a screw (see photos).
Step 3: Screen Supports
I wanted to have the bamboo poles seated onto two angled steel bars, cantilevered in such a way that the screen can swing up and out of the way for entry and exit. This is accomplished by carefully positioning the pin with respect to the notch in the angle bar. To attach the supports, I drilled a hole in both the support and the chair to insert the pin and welded the assembly together. I spent significant time trying to figure out the optimal position and angle (dip and azimuth) for these. The dip angle (verticality) was not that critical in the end because you can play around with the attachment of the screen at a later step. However, the angle in the horizontal direction, or how far apart the supports are splayed play a key given the throw of the projector and distance to the screen. Be sure to take some time to get this right given your projector and mount setup (it helps to have a some extra hands here). They are set up about 2-5 degrees outward.
Step 4: Bamboo Poles
I considered many different materials before settling on bamboo to support the screen. The combination of price, stiffness and lightness make bamboo great building material, and well suited to this project. I drilled a hole about 3 inches from the end of each pole and inserted them in the supports. I did not cut the length of the bamboo till I tested the optimal screen distance. I then drilled two holes perpendicular to the first two that are perpendicular to the first two and very near the end. These are for the dowels that will support the keyboard tray in the standing work position. To locate the holes on the base of the tray, I colored the top of the dowels with a pencil then carefully placed the tray to leave a faint trace where I need to drill corresponding dowel holes.
Step 5: Screen
I simply cut the foam board to size then cut holes near where the poles hit the board. I didn't overly trim the vertical extent of the board, to give more flexibility to the position of the projection. I had initially inserted a bamboo skewer to keep the board at an angle, but I ended up just using some document clips to hold the screen in place for now. This allowed some more experimentation with distance and angle of the screen. My current setup still seems pretty temporary. I am mulling a second version, but in the meantime this is fully functional.
Step 6: Keyboard Tray
I considered different materials for this component, and may go higher tech for the next version (foam board covered in carbon fiber) but I ended up using pine shelving. I decided to trim the corners to reduce the overall weight which is substantial. I also made some indentations for my forearms. Two holes on the bottom fit into the dowels on on the bamboo poles and a third hole fits a steel rod that holds it in place while working in the standing position.
Step 7: Finishing Touches, Future Versions and FAQ
I covered and taped off the chair before painting the new metal parts and ugly welds with spray paint. I am quite proud of the final product even if it still looks like a proof of concept. I mostly work from home (awesome). On those other days that I am at a traditional desk in the office, I miss my anti-gravity workstation. There is nothing like reviewing a report while lying comfortably back; almost like you were at the beach! I have been considering another version that could be easily adapted to any lounging chair (no welding required for installation). Another future adaptation would be to use a single arm (carbon fiber or steel tubing); although this might make the screen a little more unstable. Bouncing screens is not actually a problem because the projector is stable and your eye is not that distracted. The main benefit of a single arm is easier entry and exit.
Q: How do you use it in a typical day?
A: I rarely use the standing capability. It is easy enough to transition to standing, but it gives me pain in the lower back so I don't. It is difficult to type while laying down given how the keyboard is flat, I can type pretty accurately, but I still have to look down for special characters. This means that any significant typing is done close to the "upright" position, which is still more laid back than any office chair I have been in. My big head is always leaning on the chair. I can mouse in the laid back position no problem. The advantage of this design, is that you can switch between positions instantly without any additional adjustments. If you don't see how this is important watch this video: changing positions takes time. If I want to bang out an email, I just sit up, send, then lean right back. The screen follows me.
Q: Would you actually use this in an office environment?
A: Admittedly, you would have to spend 10 minutes explaining to everyone that walks by your cubicle. But for some people, this could mean the difference between working comfortably or not at all. So I guess it depends on the circumstances.
Q: Doesn't it get loud and hot right near your head?
A: This is a very relevant question, and points of concern as I was building. Actually this newest generation of small projectors give off way less heat (bulb is good for 30,000 hours). I don't need brightness (in my face!) so I set it to low brightness and quiet mode. Therefore with some background music, it is no more distracting than your laptop fan.