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Microsoft's Emma Watch Is a Game-Changer For People With Parkinson's ( 75

An anonymous reader writes: Called "Emma," it is a wrist wearable that can help people suffering with Parkinson's disease. The device is named after the Parkinson's sufferer that helped Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research, create the device. What exactly does it do? Well, the incurable disease causes body tremors in those inflicted, and as a result, Emma has very shaky hands. This disease makes it impossible for her to draw straight lines or write legibly. With the wearable on her wrist, however, normal writing and drawing is possible. Remarkably, how it works isn't 100 percent known. "While the wait for a cure continues, Zhang has created what she hopes could be a 'revolutionary' aid for reducing tremors. The Emma Watch uses vibrating motors -- similar to those found in mobile phones -- to distract the brain into focusing on something other than trying to control the patient's limbs. Put simply, Zhang believes 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," says Microsoft. You will want to watch this video.
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Microsoft's Emma Watch Is a Game-Changer For People With Parkinson's

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @03:30PM (#54394915)
    Of all the things we shit on Microsoft for -- and rightly so -- Emma sounds really good and they deserve credit for it. Good on Microsoft for investing in such efforts. Now I will go back and use my real ID to criticize them for Windows 10.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @03:30PM (#54394919)

    I've got so much brain trauma from the repeated head desking from dealing with Microsoft products for so many years. I just can't stop trembling anymore.

    Finally Microsoft is doing something to help us poor IT people cope!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      If it wasn't for Microsoft, many of us here would not have a job. I am migrating a lot of Win servers to Linux, and I cut the maintenance time / effort by 75%. I would be more trembling if MS disappeared. What would be left to do once everything is perfect?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by TWX ( 665546 )

        Hell, I look at it that I've had a 20 year career supporting products that can't truly be fixed. Back when I worked for a small tech services company that supported mostly small businesses in a regional area, when we fixed Novell issues we had to fix them one time, and they stayed fixed, at least in the way that had been serviced. With NT domains we would have to fix the same problems over and over again.

        Thank you Microsoft! Thank you for enabling me to have a fairly highly paid career that doesn't requi

      • What would be left to do once everything is perfect?

        I don't know, enjoying your life, spending time with family, working on hobbies -- I could name any one of things that would be a better way to spend your time than churning over software platforms. It seems like a kind of broken-window fallacy. I only bring it up because eventually none of us will have "jobs" anymore as automation (both AI and robotics) will be superior to human labor.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Aighearach ( 97333 )

      repeated head desking from dealing with Microsoft products for so many years

      They have meeting you could go to where they teach you that if you keep using it and expecting a different result, it means you're crazy.

      If you want to regain your sanity, either stop expecting windows to work, or use something else. Either way, no head desking required.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm not crying, you're.
  • I've watched the video and was wondering why this hasn't been "invented" previously? It looks like it just vibrates the arm randomly, doesn't seem to be trying to perform any counter-motions or anything.

    • by wed128 ( 722152 ) <> on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @03:52PM (#54395077)

      perhaps nobody figured out that those vibrations would calm parkinson's tremors? things don't have to be 'high-tech' to be novel...

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @04:00PM (#54395167)

      It appears to be a case of dithering [] used to reduce quantization errors []. If a system exhibits self-oscillation (Parkinsons tremors), adding random noise in the feedback loop can break that up.

      This technique has been used in numerous systems, including one prototyped on the XB-70 and in use on the B-1B. Small nose mounted winglets oscillate to introduce a small amount of 'noise' in the fuselage that interferes with tendencies of the automated flight controls to induce oscillations.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It appears to be a case of dithering [] used to reduce quantization errors []

        Another application I've seen in National Instruments analog IO boards and presumably many others places is to effectively turn a lower resolution ADC into a higher resolution one by adding noise prior to the measurement and sampling faster. You have to do some math to effectively get a higher precision waveform at a lower rate. At any rate, here is a link for the curious. dithering []

    • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @05:53PM (#54396193)

      It has been, actually, though maybe the Microsoft folks didn't know.

      I read years ago about insoles for the elderly experiencing balance problems - they would randomly stimulate the bottom of the foot and having them do so markedly improved balance.

  • This is not a Harry Potter article.
  • It's not distracting (Score:4, Informative)

    by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @03:41PM (#54394993) Journal
    It's base-lining. Laying in a sensory deprivation tanks causes hallucinations because there are no sensations to establish a mental baseline. This is the same thing but in a neuro-muscular sense.
  • by ilsaloving ( 1534307 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @03:43PM (#54395013)

    Microsoft really needs to pivot away from operating systems and onto other things. Microsoft has always made excellent peripherals for example. I remember using the first Microsoft Natural keyboard, and it did wonders for my RSI at the time.

    And then they do stuff like this.

    Seems to me that if Microsoft spun off their Windows and Office divisions, they'd be a pretty good company.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Seems to me that if Microsoft spun off their Windows and Office divisions, they'd be a pretty good company.

      The Windows and Office divisions are what funds projects like these.

      Just sayin'.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )

        Yep. It's like when you want to go see some obscure guest that wrote some episodes of your favorite TV series at a Comic Con; those screaming catgirls running around in the halls and fighting for seats to see Nathan Fillion are what bring in the dollars so that the convention can afford to bring in Dorothy Fontana.

  • It would be interesting to see how it works with tasks other than writing and drawing. I wonder if this would negate the need for the special spoon that was invented a few years ago. []
    • by TWX ( 665546 )

      The inventor of that spoon might well be the first person to be happy that Microsoft has destroyed his marketshare by introducing their own product.

  • Perhaps a larger version placed at crucial nerves near the spinal cord would allow tremors to be eliminate for the entire body.
  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <`moc.stiucricve' `ta' `ive'> on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @03:49PM (#54395061) Homepage

    If only the main company would listen to and use the results of their Research department.

    • They have. The Surface Pro 3 came out of Microsoft's Applied Science Group.
    • If only the main company would listen to and use the results of their Research department.

      That would require ditching Windows, and replacing it with Linux, as Microsoft's research department has determined that to be the best way to use a computer.

      Naturally, Microsoft's Accounting department disagrees.

  • squirrel! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Whelp, I'm officially an Apple fan boy...

    Watching an inspiring video about helping Parkinson's sufferers, and what's the first thing I notice? The Innovation Director at Microsoft Research uses an iMac at home.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by omibus ( 116064 )

      Old Microsoft would care, since their money came from selling Windows. New Microsoft doesn't mind so much since more money comes from selling cloud services (azure), office (PC and Mac), and backend services (SQL, etc).

    • For the life of me, I can't figure out why. While Microsoft has researchers battling Parkinson's, building programming languages for children with vision impairments, and designing eye-controlled wheelchairs, Apple... Well, Apple now has three pages of dongles to choose from: [] - (Insert winky face to show that I'm only HALF-kidding.) ;)
    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      Where does it say anything about that being her home?

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @03:55PM (#54395125)
    And next year they're planning one with Daffy Duck.
  • by rlp ( 11898 ) on Wednesday May 10, 2017 @03:59PM (#54395161)

    I have a friend with Parkinson's. I'd love to purchase one of these watches. I wonder if Microsoft intends to make them available now. Will this require a 10 year study and FDA approval? Or was it a one shot for public relations?

    • From []

      Everyone involved in the watch is keen on developing it for a wider market, but that’s a long road full of trials, data and research papers. It could be many years before a viable product for those with Parkinson’s even emerges from a lab, let alone finds its way to companies who can distribute it and then onto the wrists of those who need it.

      Also a bit of a warning: that is a horrible website I linked to. >60MB to just load it... And no date for when the article was written, but I'm guessing this month.

      • I don't think it would require as lengthy of an approval process as you may think, since it would be considered a Class 1 medical device.

  • You will want to watch this video.

    Why are you waving your hand around like that?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why are you waving your hand around like that?

      Because they have Parkinsons you insensitive clod!

  • Onions (Score:2, Funny)

    God damn! Who the hell is cutting onions in my office?

    Ow my feels.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Fucking awesome

  • I can't remember the last time—if ever—a Microsoft promotional video warranted a Chariots of Fire musical swell.

    "Jesus Christ (speak of the devil) I can't remember the last time we introduced a product that changed the world (for the better). And it's got our name on it. ('Me too', 'me three' echoes a pair of nearby cacti.)"

    You have to forgive them, it's been a long 40 years, out in the desert, trafficking in neurotoxic juniper berries.

  • Sounds like it's similar in action to Deep Brain Stimulation [] but without the radical invasive surgery. I don't mean to belittle Zhang's achievement here but DBS has been around for 30 years, I'm a bit surprised it's taken someone this long to make this leap.
  • Great research, Microsoft! congrats to Haiyan Zhang. That said it doesn't look like the real Emma in the video has classic Parkinson, which is a lot more than hand tremor (also slurred speech, posture changes, impaired balance, slowed movements, and more). I doubt Microsoft's Emma watch will help all of these. Nonetheless, new thinking, progress!

  • I originally saw Emma's watch as part of the BBC 2 Series, The Big Life Fix with with Simon Reeves [] [] My father has Parkinsons, so I am hoping a commercial version of the Emma watch will become available within the next couple of years.
  • Ah, but how to monetize it?
    Human language is brilliantly imprecise. It's a feature not a bug. A really big feature.

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