Technology

Microsoft Demos Emma Watch: A Wearable To Calm Parkinson’s Tremors

A new device by Microsoft may someday assist people suffering from Parkinson’s in stopping their arms from shaking, a hallmark symptom of the disease. On Wednesday during its Build 2017 convention in Seattle, the tech company introduced a wrist wearable it claims can ease the tremors associated with the neurological disease.

Microsoft Emma Watch Parkinson’s
Image Source: Microsoft/YouTube (screenshot)

Wearable can ease Parkinson’s tremors: Microsoft

The Redmond-based company showcased a prototype watch that stops the wearer’s arm from shaking. No researcher has been able to make a device to cure the tremors, but this device is designed to reduce them significantly.

Later, CEO Satya Nadella screened a video that told the story of two British Microsoft researchers, Nicolas Villa and Haiyan Zhang, who decided to release an independent project to make a tremor-eliminating device for the BBC documentary The Big Life Fix, notes USAToday.

The watch, dubbed Emma, is named after a Parkinson’s sufferer who also assisted in creating it. The shaking makes it nearly impossible for Emma Lawton, a graphic designer, to write clearly or draw straight lines. The 32-year-old worked with the researchers who were trying to develop the watch.

Zhang, an innovation director at Microsoft Research, said that Lawton’s input was very important in making the watch. Further, the researcher said it is all about listening to her describing her experience because that is one of the only ways to understand what is actually happening with her physiologically “and then drawing insights from that.” Zhang spent almost six months prototyping this wearable.

The video screened by Nadella also showed Lawton attempting to draw a square with her shaky right hand and then drawing again with the Emma watch on her wrist. Lawton was able to draw straight lines and write legibly with the Emma watch on her wrist.

“The device doesn’t stop my tremor,” Lawton said. “It gives me some control there. The writing, it’s not going to be perfect. But, my God, it’s better.”

How the Emma watch works

According to the tech giant, the Emma watch works through a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) techniques and sensors to potentially measure and monitor symptoms like stillness, tremors, and instability, among others. The watch works by sending vibrations, which allow the user’s brain to focus on their right wrist while reducing the additional signals that cause muscle tremors, notes VentureBeat. The Emma watch “vibrates in a distinctive pattern to disrupt the feedback loop between brain and hand,” the company says.

According to Microsoft, the wearable is still a prototype, but the developers are working with a neuroscience research team to undertake trials with a small group of people suffering from the disease, notes USAToday. The Redmond-based company believes the technology has the potential to assist patients with Parkinson’s in managing symptoms that impede regular functions.

Microsoft asserts that the wearable only reduces the tremors and does not cure the disease, which affects about 10 million people around the world. The tech giant says its goal is to research further to determine whether the “Emma Watch could help other people with similar Parkinson’s symptoms.”