Everyone knows the frustration of trying to thread a needle, or to hold a cellphone steady while shooting a video. Now imagine experiencing that frustration doing everyday tasks like eating and writing.
The team of engineers behind Lift Labs has set out to make smart devices that would help people with neurological disorders like essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease complete those daily tasks more comfortably.
While working toward his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, Anupam Pathak was looking for ways to use technology to steady the basic human tremor. But in the back of his mind, he knew he wanted to find a way to apply this technology to help people living with those disorders. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he secured an SBIR grant from the National Institutes of Health, and the company Lynx Design was born. For the past two years, Pathak and two fellow mechanical engineers, John Redmond and Michael Allen, have been using phase 1 and 2 SBIR grants to create a tremor-canceling device.
The idea isn’t new; active stabilization technology has been used in cameras, guns and surgical tools. The trick for Lift Labs (part of Lynx Designs) was adapting it to cancel out larger tremors.
Its device is a hand-held, battery-operated base that’s embedded with sensors, a microcontroller and tiny motors. The sensors detect the motion of a tremor, both horizontally and vertically, and the microcontroller uses that data to direct the motors in to move it in the direction opposite the tremor.
For its initial rollout this summer, the device will be sold in the form of a spoon. But Pathak said the head is detachable from the base, which contains the tremor-cancellation technology, and the plan is to eventually offer different attachments. The spoon should be available on Lift Labs’ website by late summer, he said.
When the team tested the device in a clinical trial at the University of Michigan (which was later featured at American Academy of Neurology’s annual conference), they found more than 70 percent reduction in tremor with use of the device. That means it doesn’t entirely cancel the tremor but provides significant stabilization. It’s by no means meant to replace medical options for treating tremor, but could potentially be a tool for daily living with Parkinson’s or essential tremor.
Under the company name Lynx Design, the team has also developed a couple of apps aimed at the same audience; one measures and tracks tremor, and the other plays a beat over a Bluetooth headset to help people with impaired motor control keep a steady pace while walking.
Lift Labs is part of Rock Health’s fifth accelerator class this summer.