ErgoExpo 2016 Recap
Live from Las Vegas, it’s ErgoExpo 2016!
This week ergonomists from across the globe gathered at Caesar’s Palace Hotel & Casino to participate in the largest and longest-running ergonomics conference on the continent. It’s an annual tradition for our editorial team at WorkWhileWalking & WorkWhileStanding, so we packed up our bags and flew to the Entertainment Capital of the World, landing in time for the beginning of the conference Tuesday.
The Expo was held in the Octavius Ballroom, a magnificent Romanesque space decorated with hanging lamps and white pillars–and as we made our way around the room this year, the sheer number of people present impressed us. Ergonomists, manufacturers, and institutional buyers, all eager to learn about the latest solutions for workplace ergonomics, were mingling in animated discussion over the merits of the products on display. The mood of the room was full of excitement: the future of office fitness was taking shape before us.
Over the several days of the Expo, our team scoured the booths, taking note of the new and the interesting. We have to say, in terms of participation and enthusiasm, this year’s ErgoExpo was the biggest and the best yet—and we expect to say the very same about next year’s show. Here are the highlights we gleaned from 2016:
Standing Desk Converter Craze
The converters came out in droves this year, far surpassing prior years’ numbers. Varidesk, the behemoth advertiser in the space, has stimulated consumer demand with their marketing, and spurred on a litany of ‘me-too’ competitor products in the process.
Varidesk exhibited their product line, including the Pro Plus, Exec, and the Cube Corner, which we’ve written reviews on in the past, and make no emendations to here. Worthy of note is the addition of a couple products to their line, including a chair and a dual monitor arm.
Ergotron came with their line-up of converters as well. The WorkFit-TL was on display, as well as the WorkFit-SR. The TL is basically an oversized version of the WorkFit-T, that expands the keyboard tray to allow for more mousing space and larger keyboards. And the SR is an improved version of the WorkFit-S that mounts to the back of a desk rather than the front, and saves you a little desk space.
Ergo Desktop showcased a new version of their Kangaroo Tri-Elite, winner of last year’s Attendee’s Choice Award. It features an electric lift, focal depth adjustment for the monitors, and easy-to-access lift buttons on the front of the work surface. It is poised to compete well with the Winston-E, and has the advantage when it comes to height adjusting convenience.
Many other competitors entered the fray, contributing to the converter craze. Fellowes, TCT Nanotech, Uprite Ergo, Attollo Desk, and even Autonomous, the makers of the ultra-cheap Autonomous SmartDesk, have put out versions of their own converters, and join the mounting wave. The Autonomous SmartDesk Mini is not available for sale yet, but if quality complaints on the larger version are an indicator, we might expect similar durability issues.
It’s probably safe to say the rest is in the noise for standing desk converters—and yes, there was lots of it.
Standing Desk Innovation Gains and Price Erosion
Autonomous joined Microsoft and several other companies in hanging branded banners from rafters in the Expo Hall, drawing eyes to their booths from all around the room. Autonomous, however, courted attention chiefly with its outrageously-priced standing desk, starting at only $249. Our take on the desk is documented in our Autonomous SmartDesk Review, and after seeing it at the show, our verdict remains the same: you get what you pay for. The stability on the desk is lacking, and the quality in question, as the component parts are clearly very inexpensive. For a little more, you can choose from an assortment of desks that will likely last you much longer, and certainly offer a longer warranty.
On the other end of the price spectrum, Fräsch’s new desk line is a great example of innovation in the standing desk world. Walking by their booth, we were mightily impressed with the sturdy construction and sleek design of their desks, evidence this Scandinavian furniture company is well-versed in sit-stand solutions, which have been popular in Europe longer than America. (Fräsch uses SWEDSTYLE bases in all their products.) Their standing desk features a classy bamboo tabletop with a tapered edge on the underside, and they had a three-legged L-shape desk on display that fits snugly in corner spaces. Single-leg “café” tables and a sit-stand meeting table were also on display. Look for our reviews of this refreshing new market entrant’s products soon.
iMovR also exhibited at ErgoExpo this year and brought several of their standing desks, including their ThermoDesk Uptown, and their Omega Everest. Ergonomists were impressed with the Everest’s specially designed ergonomic keyboard tray (SteadyType) that’s built into the desk, and angles downwards to promote typing in a neutral position while standing. iMovR also introduced a new standing corner desk line, the first ever with two legs, in contrast to L-shaped desks with three.
Overall, given the current environment, standing desks seem to be undergoing a race to the bottom of sorts, slashing prices to appeal to consumers. But on the other hand, there appears to be an insatiable demand for even nicer looking, more ergonomic, and higher-quality desks by more discriminating customers.
Treadmill Desks On Center Stage
Wednesday morning, Dr. James Levine, renowned evangelist for active workstations and author of “Get Up: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It”, took the podium and delivered a talk on his personal journey battling the detrimental health effects of too much sitting. Levine coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”, a radical idea that, at the time, brought him considerable ridicule in the medical community. He used this talk to venture another radical suggestion: that treadmill desks will be a significant part of the ‘not sitting’ solution. To many ergonomists’ ears, this came as a surprise. Even though treadmill desks have been around for years and the health benefits are well-documented, their adoption has been slower than expected, and many ergonomists (trained in old-school methods) have remained skeptics.
Needless to say, there was quite the buzz around treadmill desks at the Expo Hall that afternoon, and the iMovR booth, the only to showcase these innovative products, was fielding questions left and right from curious onlookers. Many ergonomists hopped on the treadmills themselves to try out walking and working, and came away with a new perspective on treadmill desks’ health potential.
The iMovR booth displayed its ThermoTread GT treadmill, custom designed for walking. It’s touted as quieter, smaller, and more powerful than any other office treadmill, and interestingly, was the only treadmill at the show this year. Its chief competitors, LifeSpan and Steelcase, opted out, and a general view at the Expo this year was that iMovR’s unique ability to marry ergonomics and treadmill desks, especially with its SteadyType keyboard tray, has positioned it firmly in appeal to ergonomists and other wellness specialists. If Levine’s predictions on the health benefits of treadmill desks are as prescient as his insight into the detrimental effects of sitting, we expect the pace of adoption for these devices to be on the rise.
Innovative Accessories: Pedals, Keyboards, Trays, and More
As we scanned the rows at the Expo, keeping eyes peeled for objects of interest, several ergonomic desk accessories stood out—the first category we can call ‘things to do with your feet’ while you sit or stand.
Cubii’s under desk elliptical pedal unit was on display, which we’ve reviewed before and highly recommend as the most ergonomic, stable, and smart pedal unit you’ll find on the market, and so was an interesting new product called the Officiser, a unit that sits underneath your desk with two pedals that allow an impressive range of motion, including 360 degree ankle rotation as well as the traditional forwards and backwards movement.
A new footrest from Stand2Learn called the Footrest Followup made a splash, and is currently US patent pending. The device is designed to fold down when a user stands up, so the footrest is in the proper position for standing, and retract when seated, so it’s there for you to rest your feet on while sitting as well. Overall, an impressive ergonomic adaption for sit-stand desks. Look for our coming review.
And balance boards abounded, with the two most noteworthy being the BackApp 360, which we’ve reviewed with a four-star rating in our BackApp 360 Balance Board Review, and the Wurf Board, an entertaining ‘surf board’ look-alike that inflates to different levels to keep your feet guessing during the day. (Wurd is one of many new entrants in our round-up of Standing Desk Balance Board Reviews.
Standing mats were consistent draws, clear crowd pleasers.
Varidesk showcased their The Mat, and iMovR represented their entire line of EcoLast mats, including their Portable Standing Mat, which features a convenient handle for carrying, the classic EcoLast Standing Mat, the TreadTop, which sits on top of a treadmill, and their oversized anti-fatigue mats for manufacturing and warehouse workers. (These drew a lot of attention from the many industrial ergonomists at the show who are more focused on finding solutions for physical laborers than desk workers.) Ergotron showed their WorkFit Floor Mat, and several other booths featured versions of the anti-fatigue mat, which we’ll keep updated in our Standing Mat Comparison Review.
As for ‘things to do with your hands’ while you sit or stand, we can point to a new prototype for a keyboard from Microsoft that takes off from the design of the popular Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard. It improves key spacing and wrist rest design to make an even more comfortable typing experience, but it hasn’t hit stores yet. Then there’s the Kinesis Free Style 2 Blue, which, while not up to the same level in ergonomic comfort as the new design from Microsoft, is a split-panel, like the Mattias Ergo Pro, and provides more ergonomic options for individual hand placements.
iMovR introduced a keyboard tray that utilizes their SteadyType patent, called the Elevon Keyboard Tray, and like its standing desks, was a hit with ergonomists looking for innovative products that make the workplace a healthier environment. iMovR will officially launch the Elevon with a Kickstarter campaign come January, but in the meantime it has set up website with product photos and details, Elevon-Keyboard-Tray.com. The Elevon is pitched as the first ever keyboard tray specifically designed for standing desks and treadmill desks. The keyboard tray itself tilts to the proper declined angle for standing ergonomics, but the side platforms (where you do your mousing) tilt as well, so both your hand motions (typing and mousing) are optimized for proper ergonomics. It wraps around you like a cockpit, is as stable as the desk itself, and installs in 30 seconds. Read about our lab testing of the first production prototype.
The last category of ergonomic accessories is ‘what to do with your derriere while you sit’, or seating, chairs. The BackApp 2.0 Active Chair, with its panoply of stunning color variations was present, including versions in the same Alcantara fabric you’ll find in Lamborghinis. And Safco Products introduced a new version of their Zenergy Chair, called the Zenergy Swivel Ball Chair, which has dropped the feet of its earlier version and features a rounded bottom edge instead that swivels back and forth as you sit, so you can more fully engage your core and keep your posture upright. A similar design was introduced by Interstuhl, a German manufacturer of seating solutions, called the UPis1, but it has a height adjustment feature that allows for a certain degree of ‘perching’.
The most conspicuous, eye-catching seating device at the Expo this year was the Signature Altwork Station, an all-in-one device that allows you to sit, stand, and recline while you work. When the Altwork comes to Seattle, we’ll take a look at it in our labs again and do a full review. But it appears to be an impressive pet project of several engineer/technologists, and features clever designs like a magnetic keyboard and mouse, and a metal work surface to keep loose objects put while the angle of the work surface is tilted in the standing position. The top model retails for $6,000, and it was the proud winner of the 2016 ErgoExpo Attendee’s Choice Award.
What Happens in Vegas…
Leaves from Vegas in the form of a blog post. This year our editorial team at WorkWhileWalking continued its tradition of reporting on ErgoExpo, delving into the booths to see what the latest and greatest ergonomic products will be for the next year. As we receive tester units from companies, we’ll be writing full reviews, for instance on the Zenergy Swivel Ball Chair and the Wurf Board, among others. If you want to keep up with the latest, sign up for our newsletter, and you’ll be the first to hear our experts’ take. Signing out from Las Vegas.