A Microsoft Researcher Created a Wearable Device That Can Suppress Tremors from Parkinson’s Disease

Microsoft had a lot to say about Windows 10 for users and developers alike at the Microsoft Build conference this week, but maybe the most important part of the conference had nothing to do with an official Microsoft product. During the day one keynote yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduced two women behind an incredible wrist-worn device that can help mitigate Parkinson’s symptoms.

The two women are Haiyan Zhang, the innovation director at Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Emma Lawton, a 33-year-old graphic designer from England who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. Knowing that tremors from Parkinson’s would completely derail Lawton’s career, Zhang got to work finding a solution.

That solution, appropriately, is called Emma. The wearable is the result of the usual hardware story — lots of soldering, PCB boards, wiring, testing, and retesting. Using small motors, Zhang created a device that can use multiple motors to vibrate at different levels of intensity with the help of a companion app.

And, it worked. Lawton wore the device — now a sleek, light teal wristband bearing her name — and after some adjustment, she was able to write her name by hand for the first time in years. The most incredible part might be that neither woman knows exactly why it works — it just does. Of course, Zhang isn’t leaving it there. She knows that Parkinson’s tremors are caused by the brain overstimulating muscles in the hand, and she suspects that the vibrations from her device are somehow tricking the brain into calming down, reducing those tremors significantly. She intends to investigate her own device more, while continuing to tinker as she and Lawton prepare the device for clinical trials.

The story debuted on the BBC program The Big Life Fix in the United Kingdom, and we’re glad it’s finally made its way to the United States. With any luck, the device itself will make the trip next!

Disclaimer: Microsoft covered our travel and accommodations for the Microsoft Build developers conference. All thoughts and opinions are 100% our own.

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