This Innovation Researcher Built a Wrist Gadget That Stopped Her Co-Worker’s Parkinson’s Tremors

Updated: May 24, 2017

Designer Emma Lawton had given up on her life's passion to draw and create, until colleague Haiyan Zhang put her innovation skills to work on the problem.

Via MicrosoftThe tremors of Parkinson’s disease can interfere with writing, buttoning a shirt, drawing, sewing, knitting, and countless other daily activities most of us take for granted. In fact, many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s are disruptive for the more than one million people in the United States who battle the condition, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. But a new product by a research innovation director at Microsoft may transform their lives. The wristwatch, created by Haiyan Zhang, emits small vibrations that “cancel out the user’s hand tremors,” reports the Good News Network.

Via MicrosoftA disorder of the nervous system, Parkinson’s usually begins with tremors of the hands, the Mayo Clinic explains. While some medications can slow down the progression of the disease and help manage symptoms, there is no cure. Zhang dubbed her invention the Emma Watch because she built it for Emma Lawton, her coworker at Microsoft, who at 33 is younger than the average Parkinson’s patient. (Only 2 percent of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s are younger than 40.)Lawton had enjoyed a lifetime of drawing and creating, but the effects of Parkinson’s made it impossible for her to continue her passion. After researching the issue, Zhang hit upon the vibrating wristwatch.

Zhang explains: “Lawton’s brain is at war with itself—half is trying to move her hand, the other half is trying to stop it. The two signals battle and amplify each other, causing the tremors. The device stops that feedback loop.” Although Lawton’s hands continue to tremor, she can’t feel it because the watch’s vibrations replace the physical sensation of her tremors. “Her brain no longer senses the hand tremoring and is no longer trying to do that loop of stopping the hand from tremoring. I have spoken with neurology researchers on the subject and there is scientific basis for this line of thinking,” Zhang said.

Via MicrosoftThe gadget was unveiled during an episode of The Big Fix, a documentary that aired on the BBC. In the episode, Lawton breaks down into tears when she discovers she can draw again with the help of the watch. Since the episode aired, Zhang has heard from others interested in the watch and she’s deciding how to get the device into the hands of more people.

“I’ve got hundreds of messages from people who want the device for themselves or their family members,” Zhang said to Microsoft. “That’s all the messages I get. I have close to 100 in my inbox, and then people contact me on Instagram, Twitter, on LinkedIn, on my blog, it’s just every which way.”