‘Project Emma’ tremor-reducing watch unveiled by Microsoft CEO

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Author: Almaz OhenePublished: 14 June 2017

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mma Lawton and Haiyan Zhang

The team behind an innovative vibrating wristwatch that helped Emma Lawton – who lives with young-onset Parkinson’s disease – to draw again, introduced the device at a prestigious tech conference


Haiyan Zhang, innovation director at Microsoft Research, and Emma Lawton, a 33-year-old graphic designer who lives with Parkinson’s, unveiled a tremor-reducing wristwatch device at the prestigious Microsoft Build 2017 conference last month.

Emma explained that the prototype wearable has allowed her to “control my own career” again at a time when she feared she might have to give up on her job as a creative director.

Reducing many in the audience to tears, she said: “I was starting to imagine that I’d have to change my career because it’s difficult to be a creative director and yet not explain your designs through sketches, or to be able to practice what you preach.

“When I’m drawing and sketching as part of my job, using the watch means I can do it, so it’s giving me the opportunity to control my own career.”

In their keynote feature video, Haiyan explained how she and her team based their invention on the gyroscope principles used in vibrating cutlery technology. The wearable vibrates in opposition to the uncontrollable tremor, allowing Emma to control the pen with much more accuracy.

Microsoft tweeted pictures of Emma’s handwriting, which showed the differences in legibility when writing with and without the device.

Jenny Lay-Flurries, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft praised its “inclusive design”.

Satya Nandella, CEO of the Microsoft Corporation – who also spoke at the event ­­– showed his appreciation of the “inspiring” project.

Haiyan explained the ideas behind the device: “A metronome can often help people overcome ‘freezing of gait,’ as somehow their brain becomes distracted by the metronome and they’re able to regain control of their legs. Based on this kind of insight maybe there’s a way to hack Emma’s brain into distracting her through some other stimuli.”

Haiyan Zhang Emma Lawton Satya Nandella

Haiyan Zhang and Emma Lawton on stage with Microsoft Corporation CEO Satya Nandella

Haiyan continued: “We’re now working with clinical neuroscientists in London to do more clinical studies. We’re bringing in more people with Parkinson’s to try out this device. We think that this particular vibration pattern works for Emma, but there might be other patterns that we can adapt for different people.

“So we’re developing a broader vision for this technology and thinking about how we might apply this effect to other parts of the body. Right now it really helps with Emma’s writing, but what about other activities that might affect different parts of the body?”

The ‘Project Emma’ team is also thinking about how the wearable could track symptoms over time, to offer people with Parkinson’s insights into their symptoms, and also advise as to when to take medications. The team is planning to begin initial studies on this technology in London in the near future.

Watch a video of Haiyan and Emma explaining ‘Project Emma’ below.

Haiyan Zhang Emma Lawton talk

Lead image credit: blogs.microsoft.com


Read more: Tremor-reducing GyroGlove set to launch in 2017

 CES 2017: 5 innovative gadgets for people with Parkinson’s

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