A Spoon Brings Dignity to Those with Hand Tremors

carer and elderly ladyAlthough feeding yourself soup or cereal seems easy enough, for the 1 million Americans who struggle with the tremors of Parkinson’s disease,  and the 10 million Americans who have a disorder called essential tremor, it is nearly impossible to keep their food on the spoon.

This is the problem that engineer Anupam Pathak wanted to solve. Since he couldn’t cure tremors, he would design a tool to work with them. What developed is a spoon that would cancel out the tremors effects, and a company called Liftware.

The California based company says the tool will help stabilize the food for people with Parkinson’s disease, Essential Tremors and other related many disorders by using active cancellation to counter act the direction of the tremor, stabilize the spoon, and keep the Cheerios off the floor. Sensors embedded in the spoon detect motion and distinguish between unintended tremors and intentional movements such as lifting the spoon to the mouth. Motors in the handle move the spoon and cancel tremor both horizontally and vertically.

“The idea is to use active cancellation [currently employed in noise-canceling headphones] to stabilize larger-scale motion,” Anupam Pathak, founder of Lynx Design, which is behind Lift Labs, said in a statement.

Pathak first thought of the technology while working toward his doctorate on new materials to be used to steady weapons on the field for the military.  Pathak said he “figured out how to make the hardware for active cancellation of human tremor very small, and realized that this would be the perfect application for active cancellation technology.”

The Liftware spoon constantly steadies itself even when the user is shaking, using embedded sensors to detect motion and distinguish between unintended tremors and intentional movements such as lifting the spoon to the mouth.  Motors in the handle move the spoon and cancel tremors both horizontally and vertically.

There’s no on switch for a patient with tremor to deal with. The spoon starts up automatically when it’s lifted from the table. The chunky handle vibrates a little in the user’s hand.  “There’s a little motion sensor right near the spoon,” Pathak explains. “If I had tremor, it’s going to move opposite to what the shaking is doing. So, if I move to the left, it’ll physically move the spoon to the right.”  And that cancels out the tremor as the spoon moves from plate to mouth. In a , the Liftware spoon canceled out more than 70 percent of a user’s tremor.

photo from NPR, All Things Considered, Ina Jafe- May 13, 2014

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