Parkinson's is a debilitating disease that can make tasks like writing and drawing impossible. There is no cure, but at Microsoft's Build conference, the company showed off the 'Emma Watch', a wearable crafted by Microsoft researcher Haiyan Zhang for helping patients with this condition.
The watch is named after Emma Lawton, a Parkinson's patient who was connected to Microsoft and Zhang by The Big Life Fix, a documentary series from the BBC about how technology can change people's lives. Zhang got the idea for the watch after spending time with Lawton and listening to her struggles.
"It's all about listening to Emma describing her experience because that's one of the only ways you can understand what's happening with her physiologically, and then drawing insights from that," Zhang explained over on the Microsoft blog. "She said she could observe her hand tremoring but no longer felt the tremor because the vibrations [from the device] were coming in place of the physical sensation of the tremor."
Zhang's solution was to create the Emma Watch, which is filled with vibration motors, like the ones in smartphones, that are supposed to distract the brain from trying to control the patient's limbs. The device's rumblings stop Lawton's brain from fighting itself, with one half trying to move her hand and the other trying to stop it.
The device worked, and Lawton was able to write out her own name. Zhang has already started talking to neurologists about the device. While there is no cure for Parkinson's, the Emma Watch and devices like it have the potential to make it easier for those afflicted with the disease to live better lives.
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