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Science

Microsoft’s Project Emma is a wearable that helps with Parkinson’s tremors

Microsoft has created a watch that the company says can help people with Parkinson’s disease write more clearly. The Emma Watch sends vibrations to the brain that help control hand tremors. Microsoft unveiled the watch during its Build conference. It’s only a prototype for now, but it could represent a hopeful step forward in using wearable technology to help those with specific conditions.

Uncontrollable shaking is a common symptom of Parkinson’s, an incurable disease that affects more than 10 million people around the world and causes loss of motor control. The Emma Watch is named after Emma Lawton, a graphic designer with Parkinson’s who’s a friend of Microsoft Research innovation director Haiyan Zhang. Zhang created the watch especially for her. It has small vibration motors that send signals to distract Lawton’s brain from trying to create the tremors. This helps calm the muscle movements and makes it easier to write — an important skill for a graphic designer.

 Photo: Microsoft
Side-by-side comparison of Emma’s writing with and without the watch.

Lawton uses a rhythmic series of vibrations, but the pattern can be customized using an app on a Windows 10 tablet. Zhang wants to do more research into how AI and sensors can help with Parkinson’s. “The device doesn’t stop my tremor,” Lawton told Microsoft. “The writing, it’s not going to be perfect. But, my God, it’s better.”

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