At the Build 2017 conference today, Microsoft unveiled a really interesting wearable — the Emma Watch. The device is a perfect example of just what is possible with technological innovations and research, particularly when it is put to good use in solving the problems of humanity.

The Emma Watch came into existence thanks to the efforts of Microsoft Research Innovation Director Haiyan Zhang. Zhang spent a total of six months prototyping a wearable for her friend Emma Lawton. The aim here was to create a product that would help Miss Lawton, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, write again.

After her diagnosis, Miss Lawton was unable to write. Microsoft created a device that could be worn on the wrist. The device sends vibrations to Lawton’s brain forcing it to focus on her right wrist. This reduces the extra signals and thus stops muscle tremors.

The vibration pattern that would enable a reduction in muscle tremors varies from person to person. So, the wearable is also connected to a Windows 10 tablet that has an app for controlling vibration speed.

With Lawton for instance, a rhythmic vibration seemed to do the trick.  However, there is no rule of thumb – at least now — and some people may be able to use their faculties better with a different rhythm or even a random vibration.

In Lawton’s words:

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

Zhang is currently working to take Project Emma to the next level. The use of Artificial Intelligence and sensors could well take the project to next level and this is exactly what the company is planning — the project being spearheaded by Zhang.

I’ve been chatting with Emma, Parkinson’s researchers, and experts to put together a deeper piece of research on how AI and wearables can better support people with Parkinson’s to manage their symptoms and medication intake. This would be an extension of the original Emma Watch project but could be quite an impactful piece of work. At the moment, it’s still only in the proposal stage

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