Parkinson’s negatively impacts millions of people around the world by making their muscles harder to control. Basically, in people with Parkinson’s the brain fires extra signals which can cause involuntary muscle movements like shaking. Think of it as your brain stuck in a feedback loop of excitement which it can’t escape – no matter how hard you try. This is where the Emma Watch comes in. The Emma Watch tries to confuse that feedback loop allowing wearers with Parkinson’s to have full control over their hands, and the early prototype works even though nobody fully understands why it works. Research like this will help people with Parkinson’s live a much better life.
The pattern of the vibration is also important. For Lawton, a rhythmic vibration is effective. (A specially designed app in Emma’s Windows 10 tablet controls vibration speed.) For other people, a more random rhythm may work better, Zhang says. However it works, she knows she’s onto something. Lawton does, too.
“It’s a huge opportunity to potentially change some lives,” Lawton says.
As part of her work, Zhang researched the root cause of tremors. She spent six months, off and on, building prototypes. She sometimes worked in her London home, soldering wires to PC boards and tinkering with coin cell motors to create vibrations. She tested early versions with four other people with Parkinson’s, producing promising results for three, spurring the idea forward, she says.