OSIM, better known for its advanced massage chairs, has begun selling a US$170 thumb-sized USB massager which uses Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS - the same technology you first witnessed in biology when your teacher made a dead frog's leg twitch using electrical current), to deliver a suite of specialized massage programmes from your laptop. It's a pretty good fit of technologies because you can synch the massage to your computer's music player and massage away stress, and tone up using the tapping, squeezing and kneading of the uPixie on specific muscle groups ... while you are working.
There are four set programmes on the uPixie, but you can also write and develop your own routines, opening up a whole host of possibilities.
The Osim uPixie is actually fairly rudimentary as far as EMS machines go.
I picked up a full blown TENS machine while I was at a Chinese Consumer Electronics Fair last year, paying US$20 for a machine that quite amazed me - through different electrical signals to the same muscles via gel-pads, the machine could induce a range of different responses - tapping, squeezing and kneading ... even a feeling that felt like scraping. The slightest current could produce an extraordinary response from the body - pain could be induced at the slightest increase of intensity (electrical power).
The $20 machine had four gel-pad electrodes, ran on a single AA battery and had many more massage routines than the uPixie, plus the same ability to write your own programs. If you can produce a self-powered device that's more complex for $20, with its own brain, then it's fairly obvious that there's plenty of potential in this marketplace.
I played with the lightweight handheld device through a half dozen countries before I lost it, and I never replaced a battery during my ownership. It's energy requirements were minimal.
The uPixie is likely to be the first of many of this genre of product - it has connected the dots - the benefits of EMS, the minimal need for electrical power and additional hardware and the interface and brain of a computer have all been connected, and there must surely be a lot of activity in this area in the near future.
Indeed, an iPad/Android app must surely be in the works somewhere.
Humanity has known about the basics of EMS for more than two centuries. Italian physician and physicist Luigi Galvani discovered in 1791 that the muscles of dead frogs legs twitched when an electric charge is applied.
Since then, bioelectricity has been used in many ways to induce positive health effects.
The Communist Bloc used EMS to supplement the training of its elite athletes during the Cold War, documenting many cases of additional endurance and strength resulting from EMS.
It was found that electrical stimulation caused long-term changes in the muscles and that different types of EMS activated different outcomes in different muscle groups.
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation has also been used successfully in the treatment of sports injuries and in rehabilitation from surgery.
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) has been used for decades in pain therapy, and the Medical Times and Register (Volume 16) of 1886, wrote that "Dr Hardaway has remarked the wide usefulness of electrolysis in cosmetic manipulations."
So theoretically, while you're working at your computer (which is at least half your life if you're anything like people around here), the uPixie could be used to massage away stress, exercise, strengthen specific muscle groups, produce more toned facial muscles (non-invasive cosmetic facelifts), and maybe even strengthen atrophied muscles following surgery and mishap.
It all depends on how it's programmed.
And I think an iPad massager would sell well, particularly if people could share massage routines.