Anupam Pathak, John Redmond, Michael Allen
A Self Stabilizing Spoon for Hand Tremors
A Self Stabilizing Spoon for Hand Tremors
A Self Stabilizing Spoon for Hand Tremors
Liftware is an active tremor cancellation technology that assists individuals affected by motion disorders such as Essential Tremor and Parkinson's. Hand tremor makes it difficult to eat and interferes with many seemingly simple tasks throughout the day. Liftware detects the user's unwanted tremor, and moves an attached implement (such as a spoon) in the opposite direction. As a result, the implement is stabilized against unintended movement. Liftware serves to improve daily living, reduce social isolation, and re-enable the affected public to participate in activities/occupations that were previously lost. With Liftware, tasks like eating are easier, more dignified, and more enjoyable.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you? Who is the at-risk population, and what behavior do you seek to change in this population?
Up to 14% of our rapidly growing elderly population is affected by hand tremor (up to 10 million in the US alone). In many cases this tremor becomes so bad, it interferes with basic daily functions such as eating and drinking. Such cases lead to loss of independence, embarrassment, and socially isolation. Current drug treatments have limited effectiveness and surgical procedures can be expensive and invasive, leaving many still seeking relief to this debilitating problem.
We designed Liftware to provide a new solution that is non-invasive, compact, and portable. It's the first product of its kind that intelligently stabilizes unwanted motion, and it can be used in daily activity. Our first users are delighted with the functionality, and experience a restoration of dignity.
The product is the result of an empathy-driven design process intended to restore dignity and simple pleasures to those suffering from movement disorders. Spending time with the people that will use our technology is core to our process. We engaged with those in the tremor community, and were guided by observation and conversations where we learned that the biggest problems are embarrassment, loss of dignity, and social isolation. We therefore set out to alleviate these problems through a compact and elegant system.
It was important to ensure that the Liftware device was not to be viewed as a simple "assistive device" in the traditional sense, which would focus purely on the functional aspect of a technology. Rather, we pursued a solution that was functionally effective while also addressing the emotional experience of living with hand tremor. We placed an emphasis on aesthetics, human factors, and convenience. The result is a product that shifts the user's focus away from their tremor so they may find the experience of everyday tasks more enjoyable.
The project came out the lead designer's PhD research in motion stabilization. For the first year, the project was funded by the NIH to show a proof-of-concept of the technology. This involved significant R&D on the required actuators, controllers, and sensors that would enable stabilizing performance in a lightweight, portable form factor. The device was tested using an external shaker for known frequencies/amplitudes of human tremor. Significant motion cancellation was recorded, and a follow-on grant from the NIH was awarded.
During the second phase of the project, the Liftware device was created and designed. We met with a local support group for Essential Tremor, and iterated constantly on the form-factor, ergonomics, weight, and controller properties. In 2012, we conducted clinical trials with the University of Michigan, and the work was recently published in the Journal of Movement Disorders.
The final shape of the device was informed by the patients' desire to hold the device in a variety of positions. Each individual's hand tremor is different, and Liftware was therefore designed to accommodate a variety of styles and preferences. The controller itself was designed to assist with a range of tremor types as well.
Each detail of the Liftware system was designed with the user's experience in mind. We were very careful to consider how the user feels, and what they typically struggle with. Attachments, for example, were specially designed to slide onto and off the device easily, even if the user has tremor. The packaging was designed to be easily opened, and all parts easy to remove. Because our core user is likely to be over 60 years old, we took care to simplify the user's interaction with the advanced technology housed within the Liftware device. For example, Liftware doesn't have an on/off button -- it turns on automatically when an attachment is connected.
Liftware is just a first example of what we plan to offer to our aging population. Designing with empathy first and foremost ensures that our users feel cared for when using our products.
Liftware is the first active motion cancellation technology application for people with hand tremors. The device is unique in that it was specifically designed to reduce large-amplitude motion, yet is so compact that it can be held in the hand. Portability and miniaturization was a significant challenge that we had to overcome.
The impact we are seeing with the device is tremendous. On an almost daily basis we receive calls and emails from our users telling us how much of a difference Liftware has made in their lives. Here is just one example of the many messages we receive:
"We just gave one of these marvelous spoons to my 94 year old Dad. My Mother says it best: 'Words can't express how wonderful this product is!' ...
With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I say thank you for what you have invented."
We consider ourselves to be extremely fortunate to be able to make this kind of impact on the lives of people around the world. This success only motivates us to do more, and develop additional technologies with similar impact in the near future.
We receive feedback on many different levels from different people involved with the tremor community. The care-givers (neurologists, therapists, and even administrators) are piloting our devices, giving valuable feedback, and have helped tremendously through our process. Patients and family members are purchasing our devices, and taking the effort to write in and post videos of the device working.
Most humbling, though, is the reception and support we've received from the larger community. People are very excited to see technology being used to help people in such a fundamental way. Our videos have spread across the internet, and we witnessed on websites like Reddit people purchasing devices for complete strangers in need.
This inspired us to launch an Indiegogo campaign in March (2014) where people funded over 115 units to be delivered to patients suffering from tremor and in economic hardship. This true display of altruism inspires and motivates us to continue our work. Our company's values have been reinforced by the participation of our community, and strengthened our motivation and resolve to develop technology that enhances life in spite of illness or disability. We are truly excited to continue to offer hope and optimism as our technology touches the lives of more people.
We founded Lift Labs to manufacture and develop not only Liftware, but other technologies for people suffering from medical disorders that affect quality of life. We are grateful for our initial support from the National Institutes of Health, and have successfully transitioned to the marketplace with the introduction of Liftware. Revenue from Liftware purchases funds the employment of 5 people (mostly engineers and designers), and we plan to grow to further advance our mission to develop advanced technologies for the social good. We would like to help as many people as possible with our technology and will continue to pursue coverage by Medicare and private insurance, as well as reducing the cost of the technology itself. We are already investing profits from the initial sales of Liftware into research and development for new technologies that will make life easier and more enjoyable for the aging population.