"What is that?!" It's a chair, it's a computer

While attendees at Comdex were lining up Monday to test drive the Segway transportation device that generated so much buzz over the past year or so, across the exhibition hall people were drawn to what looked like a jazzed-up, high-tech dentist chair. You can't ride it, but the four fellows behind Personal Computing Environments (PCE), which has as its logo the peace dove, are certain they've created something revolutionary and they are easily as ardent about that as the backers of Segway.

What they say they have created is nothing short of a new environment for work and gaming -- take your pick. Building on the peace dove logo, the combination chair-computer they are selling comes in models with the names Peacemaker (which starts at US$4,000) and Masterpeace (base price $7,800). The ergonomic gizmos are meant to position users with their feet up and their backs and arms supported with one or two (or more) flat-panel displays positioned at just the right spot and a keyboard that swings into place at just the right height and a little shelf for the mouse positioned just so to eliminate arm fatigue and repetitive strain.

"Human beings were not designed to sit in this environment," said PCE President and Chief Operating Officer Allan Quattrain, sitting at a table and tapping the air over an invisible keyboard. "You got the carpal tunnel, you got the repetitive strain, you got the lower back pain, you got the upper back pain, you got the eye strain. We want to eliminate that."

Based on how things were going at the PCE booth Monday, there's some demand for a change in computing environments. The PCE staff of four stayed up all night getting the booth not-quite ready, went to their hotel rooms to freshen up and change and returned to the exhibit area figuring they had time to finish up. The exhibit hall opened at 10:30 a.m. and within they first hour they were swamped, had sold all 20 units they had brought with them and were taking orders for more.

The computers that are part of the environments are built into a case underneath the chair, which has a base made of a couple of pipes that lead to the foot rest and pipes that come out of the back and go over the top and serve as the mounts for the flat-panel monitors. The less-expensive Peacemaker runs on an Intel Corp. 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 and has 1G-byte DDR (double data rate) RAM, a Western Digital Corp. 40G-byte hard drive, a Logitech Inc. keyboard and a Pioneer North America Inc. DVD-ROM 16x. The upgrade features a 3.0 GHz Pentium 4, with 2G-byte DDR RAM, 180G-byte hard drive, a 20-inch flat-panel monitor and a recordable DVD-CD burner.

The genesis for PCE was a long plane ride on which company Chief Technology Officer Benjamin Moglin worked on his laptop. He thought he was comfortable. He had actually gone numb from sitting in a bad position and not having support for his wrists and arms. This was in 1999. He talked to Quattrain about the problem and they decided there is a market for a seating environment and computer that provides proper support. Research and development started in 2000 and they incorporated on Nov. 8, 2001, and kept quietly working while they attracted 108 investors.

Both Quattrain and company marketing Vice President Paul De Luca contributed the detail that Moglin is into meditation -- specifically Zen -- and is a very spiritual guy. That's where the peace dove logo and peace theme come from. Moglin favors intense eye contact and moved around the booth in an oddly quick, but relaxed way, greeting booth visitors and friends who dropped by to offer congratulations over the company launch.

PCE was mostly at Comdex to generate a little buzz, get some feedback and work on alliances with partners and investors. The buzz part was clearly going on by early Monday afternoon as attendees gathered around the units on display and waited to give them a try.

"It's pretty cool looking," said Donnie Vendivel, creative director at Houston-based EBL LLC, which builds custom software applications for clients, including those in oil industry. When he heard the idea behind the chair-computer combinations he said, "It sounds like a dream."

He had some questions for De Luca, who helped set up the keyboard and monitors to meet Vendivel's needs. Vendivel wanted to know how the product is different from setting a PC up with a nice desk chair. The idea, De Luca said, is to converge all of the elements of a good, supportive ergonomic chair with the computer.

After Vendivel gave one of the units a try he offered a little feedback. "I'm a designer and I always think I can do everything better," he said, adding that in his opinion the devices are somewhat "over built" and should be simplified in design and size. But he seemed to like the concept: "It's very interesting."

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Nancy Weil

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