Co.Design

A Spoon Full Of Sensors To Help Parkinson's Patients Feed Themselves

Lift Labs' new technology aims to be a Swiss Army Knife for the 12 million Americans suffering from tremors.

At first glimpse, the Liftware almost seems like a novelty gadget: an electronic spoon stuffed full of smartphone motion sensors and accelerometers. But the problem that the Liftware is trying to solve is far from trivial. Across the country, there are over 10 million people suffering from essential tremor; there are an additional 2 million people suffering from Parkinson's disease. For these 12 million Americans, the Liftware isn't just an electronic spoon; it's a tool that could give them their dignity and self-respect back.

The founder of Lift Labs, Anupam Pathak was inspired to create the Liftware after studying the problem of canceling out human tremors in grad school. "It's a big problem for millions," Pathak tells Co.Design. "Even if you're not ill, as you get older, your hands start to shake, and there's not a lot that can be done about it except take certain drugs, all which only sometimes work and have a host of side effects."

What Pathak realized was that the technology to help people deal with tremors was already available in the consumer space, built into every digital camera and smartphone sold. All of these devices have image stabilization technology built in. Why not leverage this same technology to help people with intense tremors? Following this train of thought to its natural conclusion, the Liftware was born. A handheld stabilizer that can counteract tremors, the Liftware is ultimately meant to be a sort of Swiss Army Knife for those suffering from erratic, involuntary movements.

Here's how it works. Inside every Liftware handle is a number of common motion sensors, the type that you might find in your iPhone or digital camera. Each of these sensors measures motion, then passes it through a small microcontroller that uses custom algorithms to analyze the signal and identify the type of tremor being detected. If the motion has the frequency and amplitude of a large human tremor, the Liftware microprocessor will tell actuators in the handle to adjust the handle's attachment in the opposite direction of the tremor, hopefully canceling it out.

The first attachment the Liftware is launching with is a spoon. "When coming up with the Liftware, we spent a lot of time working with local support groups, getting a sense of what people needed," says Pathak. "One thing people really wanted was a spoon to help them eat." People with violent tremors often won't go out to restaurants, or dine with friends, because of their affliction. "There's a loss of independence and dignity because if they do, they're spilling everywhere. People with tremors won't go out because it's embarrassing, and that leads to social isolation."

The spoon attachment is just the beginning, though. According to Pathak, there's a significant number of challenges that individuals with tremors face every day performing tasks the rest of us take for granted. "People with tremors have problems with everything from using tools, to unlocking doors, to putting makeup on," says Pathak. "The sky is the limit when it comes to the number of useful attachments we could release."

Lift Labs' Liftware device isn't cheap--it costs $299.95, coming with the Liftware Spoon attachment, although the idea is to make future attachments cheaper--but for those living with Parkinson's and essential tremor, it's a device that could just give them the semblance of a normal life back. It's available for pre-order now on Lift Labs’ official site.

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