Microsoft Inventor Creates Device to Ease Tremors of Her Friend with Parkinson’s

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Device to ease tremors

Credit: Microsoft Central

Parkinson’s disease causes tremors — in some cases severe enough that patients can’t write or eat properly.

Microsoft’s Emma Watch can alleviate the hand tremors that many patients experience.

Haiyan Zhang, a Microsoft innovation director, invented the Emma Watch after meeting Emma Lawton, a graphic designer who was 29 when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

The two met in London. As they got to know each another, Zhang noticed that Emma’s constant tremors made her graphic design work difficult. At times she couldn’t even write her name.

Zhang started developing prototypes of a device that could help ease tremors, giving Emma and other Parkinson’s patients their dexterity back.

Zhang is committed to helping others through innovation. She considers herself part of the Maker movement, a subculture that merges the ingenuity of do-it-yourself efforts with the engineering achievements of modern technology. In fact, Zhang’s mission at Microsoft is very much related to her involvement in the Maker movement.

After experimenting with prototypes, Zhang created the Emma Watch. Its tiny motors counters tremors by generating an equal amount of force against them, keeping movement steady.

When Lawton tried the watch for the first time, she and Zhang were astonished at how much it helped alleviate the tremors. Lawton could write her name, draw straight lines, rectangles — basically, whatever she wanted. Check out the short video below to see her and Zhang’s reaction to the watch.

“As someone who works in technology and thinks about new kinds of things, I don’t really see the impact of that on people’s lives or on an individual,” Zhang said in a Microsoft Central news story written by Jason Ward. “For me, it was so powerful to see her life made better.”

“To be able to write your name is a basic human right,” Lawton said. “To be able to do it and do it neatly is really special to me now. It’s empowering. It made me feel that I could do anything.”

For now, the Emma Watch is the only device of its kind. But Zhang and her Microsoft team want to harness artificial intelligence to develop a device that detects and counteracts other Parkinson’s symptoms, such as body rigidity, slow walking, and falling.