Walk and drive at the same time: shape-shifting seat simulates walking to counter inactivity

Joseph Flaig

The 'morphable' seat from Jaguar Land Rover is designed to simulate the rhythm of walking (Credit: Jaguar Land Rover)
The 'morphable' seat from Jaguar Land Rover is designed to simulate the rhythm of walking (Credit: Jaguar Land Rover)

Obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer – the risks of physical inactivity are many, varied and serious.

It even threatens our mental health, and exercise can help delay the onset of dementia. 

Despite the severity of the issue, huge numbers of people worldwide are physically inactive. We move less during our leisure time and are more sedentary during work, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  

“Research by the WHO found more than a quarter of [adult] people worldwide – 1.4bn – are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles, which can shorten muscles in the legs, hips and gluteals, causing back pain,” says Dave Withey, senior engineer at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). “The weakened muscles also mean you are more likely to injure yourself from falls.” 

With so many challenges to health, JLR has set out to see how it can protect its customers. One potential solution is the ‘shape-shifting seat’. 

A morphable seat

“The well-being of our customers and employees is at the heart of all our technological research projects,” said Dr Steve Iley, JLR’s chief medical officer, in the project announcement. “We are using our engineering expertise to develop the seat of the future using innovative technologies not seen before in the automotive industry, to help tackle an issue that affects people across the globe.”

The concept, also known as the ‘morphable’ seat, is designed to cause pelvic oscillations. Within the seats, a series of actuators embedded in the foam will make continuous ‘micro-adjustments’ beneath drivers and passengers, gently shifting them from side to side. 

The system can be individually tailored and ‘tuned’ by people in the seats, and it is specifically designed not to have an impact on comfort or to increase surrounding muscle fatigue. 

The seat’s movement will simulate the rhythm of walking, says JLR. By doing so, the company hopes the seats could help mitigate against the health risks of sitting down for too long – UK drivers cover a weekly average of 235km, according to 2018 statistics from the Department for Transport.

Plans under wraps 

The car manufacturer did not tell Professional Engineering when the seats could be introduced to new models, saying it does not comment on plans for future products. Demonstrators are nonetheless in development at JLR’s body interiors research division, and, with a growing range of heating, positioning and even massage options already available within the seats of new cars, it seems likely that shape-shifting could join the list of mod cons in the near future. 

Of course, some people might argue that physical inactivity of people in Jaguars and Range Rovers is not necessarily a problem for engineers – rather than tricking the body into thinking it is walking, perhaps it would be better for people just to walk? 

As a car company, it is understandable that this is not JLR’s top priority, however. Indeed, the shape-shifting seat could be seen as a refreshingly practical attempt to counter a genuine and complex issue, rather than a PR-driven ‘health-washing’ scheme supposedly encouraging people to walk more.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 


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