Having control of your basic motor functions is something most people take for granted, but for individuals with Parkinson's disease, that is not the case.
Emma Lawton is a 33-year-old British graphic designer who has been living with Parkinson's for the last four years. Parkinson's is a chronic disease that causes malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain that control movement and coordination. Symptoms of Parkinson's include tremors, instability, and rigidity of the limbs.
As part of the first episode of the BBC's The Big Life Fix with Simon Reeve, a series focused on pairing the UK's top designers and engineers with people in need to create technology or solutions for their individual predicaments, Lawton was paired with Haiyan Zhang, Director of Innovation at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. Zhang set out on a mission to create a device that would allow Lawton to gain back some functionality so she can continue to sketch and produce her artwork.
The idea for Zhang's watch-like device came from a popular tool for people with Parkinson's, Liftware Steady, an easy-to-use spoon that combats tremors by vibrating in opposition, stabilizing movement by 70 percent. According to Zhang, the idea was to create a device using tiny motors that will vibrate against Lawton's unique tremors, "short-circuiting whatever feedback loop there is between the brain and the hand that's causing the tremors."
Well, whatever that feedback loop was, Zhang found a way to get around it and the results are better than they could have imagined. Below you can see Lawton's hands before and after her device and the difference is absolutely beyond belief.
You can see the emotion flood across Lawton's face as she legibly writes her name for the first time in a long time. As Parkinson's has no real cure, the fact that she is able to regain some of the control of her hand is remarkable. This one small piece of custom technology will completely change her life and allow her to keep progressing in her career despite her affliction—all she needed was the right person who could make it happen.
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