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Microsoft shows off watch that quiets Parkinson's tremors
Friday November 10, 2017
Marco della Cava
USA Today - SAN FRANCISCO — Tech company developer conferences always feature a wacky demo or three.
But at Build 2017 in Seattle Wednesday, Microsoft went for the waterworks at the conclusion of CEO Satya Nadella's keynote address: it showcased a prototype watch that temporarily eliminated the arm shaking that often plagues those suffering from the neurological disease Parkinson's.
After a speech that both heralded and warned about coming leaps in technological power, Nadella screened a video that told the story of two British Microsoft Research employees, Haiyan Zhang and Nicolas Villa, who developed the tremor-interrupting device for a BBC documentary, The Big Life Fix.
The Emma Watch, a prototype that was shown at Microsoft Build 2017, can still the trembling arms of those suffering from Parkinson's. (Photo: Microsoft)
Working with graphic designer and Parkinson's sufferer Emma Lawton, 32, the researchers developed a watch — which they named Emma — that, according to Microsoft, "vibrates in a distinctive pattern to disrupt the feedback loop between brain and hand."
The video showed Lawton trying to draw a square with her shaky right hand, and then again, wearing Emma. Watson erupts in tears as she calls her mother to say this is the first time she's been able to write her name in ages.
The watch works through a combination of sensors and AI (artificial intelligence) techniques to potentially detect and monitor symptoms like tremors, stiffness and instability, among others, according to Microsoft. "Once these symptoms can be identified and measured, it’s possible to develop technology and devices that help humans manage their symptoms. AI is used to classify the sensor information and elicit real-time responses on small devices like wearables."
Microsoft researcher Haiyan Zhang, left, and graphic designer Emma Lawton, who is wearing a special watch named after her that stills the trembling in her arms caused by Parkinson's. (Photo: Microsoft)
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter.
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