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Parkinson’s sufferer writes again


A wearable device developed by Microsoft has transformed the life of a young Parkinson’s sufferer.

The prototype watch made by Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research, was made for graphic designer Emma Lawton, who has Parkinson’s. The ‘Emma Watch’ vibrates to combat tremors and it is allowing Emma to write with a steadier hand.

“Zhang has created what she hopes could be a revolutionary aid for reducing tremors. The Emma Watch uses vibrating motors – similar to those found in mobile phones – to distract the brain into focusing on something other than trying to control the patient’s limbs. Put simply, Zhang believes Lawton’s brain is at war with itself – half is trying to move her hand, the other half is trying to stop it. The two signals battle and amplify each other, causing the tremors. The device stops that feedback loop,” an article in the Microsoft News Centre explains.

And it is helping to give Emma her life back.

“It’s a bit of a modern-day miracle – someone not being able to write and draw and then being able to do it again,” she said in the same article. “And the watch continues to work. It fills me with joy that it wasn’t just a one-off, a fluke. I get foot cramps, so I’m going to try wearing it around the house on my ankle and see whether that helps. You never know.

“For now, it has given me control of my career back, and I’m the one who decides how long I want to be a designer for. I don’t think Haiyan realises how much she has done for me.”

There is still a lot of work to be done before technologies are developed for the wider market but this is a major breakthrough in that journey.

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