Microsoft have created an electronic wristband that can help stem the uncontrollable shakes of Parkinson’s sufferers.
How a watch is helping Emma to write again
Haiyan Zhang, an engineer at Microsoft, has created a life-changing device for a woman with Parkinson’s disease. Zhang and the team behind the innovative vibrating wristwatch that has helped Zhang’s friend Emma Lawton – who lives with young-onset Parkinson’s disease – to write and draw again, introduced the device at a top tech conference earlier this year.
The watch has potential to help patients manage symptoms that impede regular functions
Uncontrollable shakes are one of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, preventing many sufferers from carrying out routine tasks such as getting dressed, preparing meals, writing notes or using a computer.
Currently in the prototype phase, the Emma Watch was created by Microsoft developer Haiyan Zhang for her friend Emma Lawton, a 32-year-old graphic designer who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. Microsoft unveiled the device at its annual developer’s conference in a video that shows Lawton regaining the ability to draw, a passion she has struggled with since her diagnosis.
With the Emma device on her wrist, Lawton is able to write legibly and draw straight lines, something she has been struggling with on her own.
"The technology has the potential to help Parkinson’s patients manage symptoms that impede regular functions," said Microsoft.
The Emma Watch is currently a prototype designed specifically for Lawton and a BBC documentary called The Big Life Fix. It is not clear if it will be released widely, but Microsoft said it plans to conduct further work in the area. "The goal of further research is to determine whether Emma Watch could help other people with similar Parkinson’s symptoms," it said.
It is fitted with sensors and software that could monitor other patients’ symptoms including tremors and stiffness to create further products. "Once these symptoms can be identified and measured, its possible to develop technology and devices that help humans manage their symptoms," said Microsoft. "AI is used to classify the sensor information and elicit real-time responses on small devices like wearables."
Zhang has previously designed counter-tremor cutlery that can react to people’s movements to prevent them from spilling food.
Some time before watch reaches a wider market
While everyone involved in the watch is keen on developing it for a wider market, they say that’s a long road full of trials, data and research papers, and it could be many years before a viable product for those with Parkinson’s even emerges from a lab, let alone finds its way to companies who can distribute it and then onto the wrists of those who need it.
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